Gender parity: Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind in primary, secondary education

UNESCO's Director General, Irina Bokova

UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova

A new Gender Report, compiled by UNESCO’s EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) for International Day of the Girl Child, shows that no country in Sub-Saharan Africa has achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education. There is still only 92 girls per 100 boys in primary school in the region. The country with the greatest inequity remaining in primary and lower secondary is Chad.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO said “Educating a girl educates a nation. It unleashes a ripple effect that changes the world unmistakably for the better. We have recently set ourselves a new ambitious agenda to achieve a sustainable future. Success in this endeavor is simply not possible without educated, empowered girls, young women and mothers.“

The Report, released jointly by the GMR and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative shows that, considerable challenges remain, with gender disparities widening at each cycle of the education system and the poorest girls remaining at stark disadvantage.

Girls continue to face the greatest challenges in accessing primary school. Of the 18 countries with fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys enrolled, 13 are in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 16.7 million girls out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, 9.3 million of which will never set foot in a classroom. On current trends in sub-Saharan Africa the poorest girls will achieve universal primary completion twenty years after the poorest boys.

Gender disparities in secondary education have barely changed in sub-Saharan Africa since 1999, with still only around 8 girls for every 10 boys enrolling. In 2012, at least 19 countries around the world had fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys in school, 15 of which were in sub-Saharan Africa. In the Central African Republic and Chad in 2012, half as many girls as boys were in secondary school. In Angola, the situation has actually worsened, from 76 girls per 100 boys in 1999 to 65 in 2012.

In a few poor countries, such as Rwanda, new gender gaps at the expense of boys have emerged. In Lesotho, only 71 boys were enrolled for every 100 girls in 2012, a ratio unchanged since 1999.

Gender gaps in youth literacy are narrowing. However, fewer than seven out of every ten young women in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to be literate by 2015. The lack of progress in literacy among adult women is stark: two-thirds of adults who lack basic literacy skills are women, a proportion unchanged since 2000. Half of adult women in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa cannot read or write.

School-related gender based violence is one of the worst manifestations of gender discrimination and holds back education attainment. Likewise, child marriages remain a persistent barrier to girls’ education. If exiting laws on age of marriage were enforced, this would result in an overall 39% increase in years of schooling in sub-Saharan Africa. Early pregnancy remains a barrier to girls’ education as well: Pregnancy has been identified as a key driver of dropout and exclusion among female secondary school students in sub-Saharan African countries, including Cameroon and South Africa. The prevalence of premarital sex before age 18 increased in 19 out of 27 countries analysed in the region between 1994 and 2004.

Since the late 1990s, several sub-Saharan African countries have introduced policies supporting the readmission of girls following the birth of a child. But even where policies exist, uptake is often limited. In South Africa, legislation forbids schools from excluding pregnant girls, but only about one in three return after childbirth. Those who do return often face negative attitudes and practices from teachers and peers

The proportion of female teachers is an important indicator of progress towards gender equality. Yet, women made up 43% of primary teachers in sub Saharan Africa in 2012 and only 31% of secondary teachers.



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