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What do we mean by gender equality in education, and how can we measure it?

CEID Blogger18 May 2021

By Helen Longlands

Gender equality in education is a matter of social justice, concerned with rights, opportunities and freedoms. Gender equality in education is crucial for sustainable development, for peaceful societies and for individual wellbeing. At local, national and global levels, gender equality in education remains a priority area for governments, civil society and multilateral organisations. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and 2020-2030 Decade of Action commit the global community to achieving quality education (Goal 4) and gender equality (Goal 5) by 2030. The G7 Foreign and Development Ministers, meeting this summer in the UK, have made fresh commitments to supporting gender equality and girls’ education, which build on those they made in 2018 and 2019. Yet fulfilling these agendas and promises not only depends on galvanising sufficient support and resourcing but also on developing sufficient means of measuring and evaluating progress.

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Alternative Histories of Education and International Development #006 – Solaiman & Corbishley

utnvmab26 April 2021

Critical Thinking and Safe Spaces: A Dialogue  

by: Haya Solaiman and Rachael Corbishley

During the first session of the CEID Alternative Histories of Education and International Development Discussion Café, we shared some thoughts and reflections around ‘decolonising education.’ When it was suggested afterward that we write a blog to share some of these thoughts we had such mixed feelings.

On one hand, “I’m white, I grew up in the UK, only speak English, and am increasingly aware of my privilege. I’m not sure I felt comfortable writing about decolonising the curriculum as a white student. I am still not sure whether I feel comfortable about this” (Rachael).

On the other hand, “I come from Syria, a country in conflict, yet I consider myself ‘privileged’ as I can continue my education, and even pursue my studies abroad when many of my compatriots are enduring hardships back home and in the diaspora as refugees. However, when asked about decolonising education I also felt uncomfortable as the idea of censorship haunts me whenever I want to express my thoughts” (Haya).

Our contrasting backgrounds made our perspectives on decolonising education rather different. However, we both felt the need for space where we can share our critical thoughts freely and safely. Previously, our peers, Shola and Albina, talked about “creating a safe space”. They reflect that the safe space of the Discussion Café was enabled through “placing everyone at the same level … where everyone’s voices can be heard…” Here we decided to share some of our dialogue; some of our reflections, positionalities, and definitions of safe spaces in academic settings. The following text captures our conversation. We hope that these reflections will enable us to contribute to a wider discussion on safe spaces in academic settings and the hierarchies of knowledge production.

Reflecting on our own backgrounds and positions on safe spaces:

he Art of Conversation by René Magritte 1963

The Art of Conversation by René Magritte 1963

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Making gender equality a reality in education: what will it take?

CEID Admin8 March 2019

By Elaine Unterhalter, Professor of Education and International Development and Nicole Bella, Global Education Monitoring Report and Jane Davies, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat, March 2019.

This piece was originally published on the Global Partnership for Education blog, March 6th 2019. Reproduced here with the Authors’ permission.

In focus: Girls’ education and gender equality

To get more accurate and usable information on the multiple barriers that girls face in education, several projects are under way to measure discriminatory practices and norms and use that information to build education systems that don’t hold any children back.

Achieving gender equality is at the heart of the SDG agenda, and a core principle of GPE 2020, the strategy of the Global Partnership for Education up to 2020. SDG 5 (gender equality) explicitly targets key areas of inequality, and SDG 4 (education) outlines a number of gender equality related-targets. The General Recommendation 36 by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women brings these two sets of targets together, setting out the ambition to achieve gender equality not only in but also through education.

But what does gender equality in and through education look like? How would it be measured? These are questions we and other organizations are grappling with. Let’s review a concrete example.

More girls in school in Malawi, but low completion

Malawi was one of the first countries in Africa to introduce free primary education in 1994. This move led to an enormous expansion of opportunities for all children, most notably the poorest. The policy is credited with a reduction in some marked gender inequalities associated with girls dropping out of primary school and lacking support to enroll at the secondary level.

Statistics now show more girls than boys enrolling in primary school. The Malawi Education Sector Plan has been praised for highlighting issues concerning girls’ access, progression and achievement.

But commentators also note that many girls, particularly from the poorest socio-economic groups, drop out of the higher grades in primary school and do not progress to secondary school.

Only 66 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary education actually complete and graduate. The reasons for drop out are complex, associated with family income and high levels of domestic responsibility.

It’s clear that statistics for gender parity in enrollment or completion do not tell us enough about the inequalities that girls face and that must be addressed.

Discriminatory gender norms remain strong

For example, researchers note authoritarian and often highly gender discriminatory school cultures, with teachers using discipline and ad-hoc guidelines that reflect and reinforce discriminatory gender norms in the society.

Similarly, while National Statistical Office figures indicate that the number of child marriages is decreasing, possibly as a result of the recent Marriage Act (which strengthens legislation to reduce marriage under the age of 18), the practice of child marriage still remains pervasive.

In 2015, almost a quarter (23.5%) of girls and women aged 15-19 years were married in Malawi, and 42% of women aged 20-24 reported they were married before the age of 18. Child marriage is often associated with conservative social, gender and religious norms, which give little scope for the autonomy and decision-making power of adolescent girls.

All of this indicates that a coherent education sector plan should take into account many aspects of gender inequality that may appear beyond the remit of the ministry of education, and require coordinated efforts between different ministries, civil society groups and communities to bring about change.

What information, resources and approaches to measuring gender inequality and equality in education can those involved in education planning draw on?

If gender parity figures do not give us the full picture, what else should we be looking at? Areas in which richer information is needed include, for example, entrenched discriminatory gender and social norms that limit girls’ and women’s right to education, families’ approach in households to organizing work and managing budgets with regard to girls and boys, teachers’ attitudes and dispositions, which may pre-date any formal education they received, issues of school-based gender violence, sexual harassment and coercion, and lack of reproductive rights, which are associated with teenage pregnancy and early marriage.

One project looking into measurement of these broader facets of gender inequality which affect education outcomes is the AGEE (Accountability for Gender Equality in Education) project, an innovative collaboration between academics at universities in the UK, Malawi and South Africa.

The project recognizes how important it is to improve the measuring and monitoring of gender equality in education and to develop a range of tools to document practices that may appear unmeasurable. These, if described, even by proxy measures, may allow for richer insights and better coordination of research to inform sector planning.

The project team is working with UNESCO and other organizations, and through these consultations and discussions has developed two indicator frameworks that look beyond parity in numbers and try to measure gender equality more broadly, both in and through education, for use at the national and international levels.

At the national level, it is consulting with key partners in Malawi and South Africa on a dashboard of measures that speak to local conditions. In current drafts, the national dashboard comprises information on:

  • gender and resources – financial, infrastructural, staff, ideas about planning
  • constraints to converting resources into opportunities; for example difficulties in implementing policies, distributing finance or understanding gender and other inequalities
  • attitudes of teachers, parents and students to gender inequality and gender equality that affect schooling
  • gender outcomes of education (progression, learning outcomes) and beyond education, for example political and cultural participation and connections with health, employment, earning and leisure.

National statistical offices in Malawi and South Africa, academics and activist organizations are reviewing the dashboard and seeing how it can be used to draw out key gender issues to inform more gender-responsive education sector planning.

At the international level, in partnership with a team at the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), a framework has been developed to monitor gender equality across countries. This uses the national level dashboard, but also draws on data that is already routinely collected across countries.

A range of multilateral and bilateral organizations (eg. UNESCO, UNGEI, UN Women, FAWE, GPE, DFID), key NGOs, academics and activists are being consulted to refine this cross-national measurement framework and consider its links to national processes.

The GEMR’s framework uses a three-pronged rights-based approach to gender equality:  assembling information on the right to education, rights in education and rights through education. Six domains are monitored:

  • educational opportunities (gender parity indices across all level of education and different educational aspects)
  • gender norms, values, attitudes and practices
  • institutions outside education or legislation forbidding gender-based discrimination
  • laws and policies guaranteeing the right to education for girls and women, and gender-responsive planning and budgeting within the education systems
  • education system institutions and the extent to which they are gender sensitive and responsive (resource distribution -finance and teaching profession; teaching and learning practices and learning environments)
  • Outcomes of education (e.g. access to labor market, sexual and reproductive health rights and decisions, political participation, etc.).

Both the AGEE and the GEMR frameworks are aiming to help build education systems that take account of broader gendered barriers holding children back, especially girls, that identify strategies to address them, and then measure progress towards closing these critical gender gaps.

Similarly, GPE in partnership with UNGEI have been supporting developing country partners to apply a gender lens to education sector planning to advance this aim. Based on the Guidance for developing gender-responsive education sector plans prepared by UNGEI and GPE, with support from UNICEF, Plan International, UNESCO IIEP/Pole de Dakar, AU/CIEFFA, FAWE and ANCEFA, four regional workshops, reaching 25 countries so far, have helped governments, development partners and civil society representatives to take a deeper look at how gender equality needs to be considered at each stage of the planning cycle, including preparatory sector analysis.

This work will help improve how gender equality results are framed, monitored and reflected in education sector plans, strengthen accountability for gender equality results, and ultimately help achieve gender equality both in and through education – a positive transformation from which all girls, boys and our societies will benefit.

The Hair, Skin, and Education of Black Girls

CEID Admin11 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #2 | Gender Equality Stream | June 11, 2017

By Veronique L. Porter

The Hair, Skin, and Education of Black Girls

gender blog picture3

Photo credit Devin Trent

I wrote this blog post in high anticipation of the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) symposium on June 15th, and the discussions to follow around the CEID’s thematic areas including gender equality and women’s rights.

As I struggled to write this blog post, my classmate suggested I write about something I am passionate about. She is familiar with my social media, and knows my interests run wide and deep from my various posts. While my interests range across many areas, subjects, and themes, people of color are at the center. As an Education, Gender, and International Development student at UCL’s Institute of Education, right now I am keen to take a deeper look at Black girl’s education.

Despite my formal and informal studies and my life long experience, I somehow felt underqualified as I began to write. This is not an unfamiliar or irrational feeling. Rather it’s a response to subtle and obvious conditioning that my kinky hair and dark skin are not the features associated with educated, qualified people. And this reaction is not my unique struggle.

Black girls get these cues every day, often within the school environment. Schools in the United States often punish and suspend Black girls for being loud and aggressive at much higher rates than their peers, consistent with the perception of dark skinned women being angry and defiant. One ten-year-old student in the United States faced bullying at two schools over her dark complexion. To make matters worse, her teacher handed her a black crayon, instead of a brown one, during an assignment to draw self-portraits.

On an institutional level, many school policies regulate Black hair. Another US student was told her textured hair was “out of control and all over the place.” She was threatened with expulsion from the school if her hair was not “fixed or styled,” as her textured hair was considered a fad, which is against school policy. A school in South Africa told a student that she could not take her exams if she did not straighten her hair or make it “more beautiful.” A Black university student was barred from entering the university building in Brazil, because her “Black Power” hairstyle was too political. These are not policies that restrict styles but the texture as it naturally grows from these students’ heads.

The instances mentioned above are only a few examples of the intolerance that Black girls face based on their physical features. Stories like these regularly appear on news websites, in the content podcasts and blogs, and in my social media feeds, usually from sources that purposefully include Black news, events, and culture. The prevalence of these policies send clear messages to Black girls that they are not welcome in the learning environment without altering themselves. They should have a docile demeanor and be sure not to voice their opinion for fear of being perceived as being disruptive or defying authority. Highly textured hair needs to be altered for the classroom otherwise it is distracting or unkempt.

I say “Black” knowing that this is a very American way to label dark skinned people. Yet this is the most authentic way for me to describe the common denominator of the groups of people identified by their dark skin, and who face various types of oppression and discrimination in communities all over the world on the basis of their dark complexion.

My feelings of inadequacy, while sometimes frequent, are often brief. I know that I am knowledgeable and equally capable as my peers from other nationalities and of other complexions. But Black girls all over the world are shaping their personalities, their lives, their futures based on the information we give them in society and especially in school. There should not be an association with students’ physical characteristics and their learning. Schools can create and reinforce standards that make it more difficult for Black girls to learn by making them uncomfortable in their own bodies. But schools can also create a setting that values learning over appearance. The first step in creating a welcoming and equitable learning environment in schools is to allow Black girls to be Black students and eliminate policies that target their innate features.

I am looking forward to the ways the new Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) gender equality and women’s rights will contribute to girls’ education for girls of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities. But selfishly, I want more focus on the education of Black girls, so the Black girls of tomorrow don’t have to face the same oppression and inequality as the Black girls of today. I hope to discuss this topic more with my classmates and education experts during the CEID launch event, Thursday, June 15th.

Written by: Veronique L. Porter

Veronique has years of professional experience working in West Africa on education, youth development, and health, and supporting various USAID development programming from Washington, DC. At the time of writing, Veronique is studying the MA in Education, Gender and International Development (EGID) at the IOE.

Chile: Tunnels of Inequality

CEID Admin9 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #3 | Inequalities, Poverty and Education Stream | June 9, 2017

By María Paz Alarcón

Why does inequality matter? Inequality of what? These are the usual questions I hear when speaking and discussing about inequality. When looking at a particular country’s data on inequality, we usually look at its GINI coefficient or the proportion of income accumulated by the highest and lowest percentiles located in the highest or lowest part of the distribution. When looking at inequalities in education, the eye is set on opportunities such as access, results among students from different countries, types of schools and households. These are often disaggregated by several characteristics, such as gender or ethnicity. All these indicators are indeed useful and necessary to improve educational opportunities, but I believe is time to have a deep look at the processes in which inequalities are embedded and how they impact peoples lives. As a Chilean, I have been a witness of a place where you can breathe inequality and segregation. Chileans might not have read international reports or know about inequality indicators, but when they travel through their cities, attend education and health services, and listen to how people speak differently, they note important differences. This recall other countries with strong inequality and segregation indicators, such as South Africa.

This segregation in education is linked with socioeconomic groups, which are concentrated in certain types of schools and areas. Segregation is strong in Chile. Through primary and secondary education these educational paths can be illustrated as separated tunnels with thick walls in which each group walk: the different realities don’t clash or meet that much. Only in Higher Education, and then only in certain Universities, some students from different backgrounds start to see each other, interact in classrooms and discover new realities. Data on higher education enrolment tell us that students from the lowest income backgrounds are significantly less-represented in higher education in Chile, but this gap has decreased in the last decades. Indicators on diversity do show improvements. But what I have observed and what I question is, do these students really see each other? What is happening with integration, process and interactions? Segregation and inequalities travel into higher education institutions and continue in different physical spaces. The topics of conversation, gestures, activities, places which student visit and their home realities are very dissimilar. When asked the question of which school they attended and which district they live in… will student be able to get along, understand each other, and truly see each other? The tunnel’s walls become transparent but might remain thick. In certain institutions, universities or careers, the phenomenon of “us-and-them” is strongly experienced by some, with, a sense of “I don’t belong here”. How much importance are we giving to these experiences in understanding forms of inequalities? How can discussion and social cohesion build up from here?

Inequalities re acknowledge to have a negative impact on economic growth, educational opportunities and a sense of community.  But much of this discussion sees inequalities as forms of inputs and outputs. The feelings, burdens, sense of voice, participation and belonging that people experience through educational processes, traveling between input and output, should be highlighted.  These experiences are things that people value. It is important for people to feel they belong, that they have voice, that they can relate and build community. I would like to make an invitation for us to start considering these effects on processes and experiences, as key to bring new perspectives on development and to eliminate barriers creating divisions. I hope that we can start to glimpse less parallel thick-wall tunnels, to then establish paths that cross and connect. In this way individuals can effectively see and understand each other.

As an MA student currently working in The Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) at UCL, I have been influenced by the work CEID has developed on social justice and equality, one of their five thematic areas, bringing debate on these complex issues and their intersections with other key themes. I’m looking forward to discussing perspectives on inequalities with the other participants at the CEID launch on Thursday 15th June 2017.

20170609-Maria

María Paz Alarcón has worked in Chile contributing in the improvement of educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups by tutoring, developing educational projects and coordinating University affirmative-action initiatives. She is currently a student on the MA in Education, Gender and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education.

The CEID Blog

CEID Admin5 June 2017

The CEID Blog

Welcome to the Centre for Education and International Education (CEID) blog.  This blog is a forum for staff, students, alumni and guests to write about and around CEID’s five thematic areas of engagement.

Our focus areas

The Centre concentrates around five thematic areas, each underpinned by the aim to improve people’s lives through research, teaching and generating new knowledge. These include: