29th February 2020
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Over the past 25 years, substantial progress has been made towards achieving gender parity thanks to sustained efforts to improve girls’ education, including policies and programmes aimed at changing social attitudes, providing financial support to female students and making schools more accessible. While gender parity has been achieved globally, on average, the situation varies by region. Sub-Saharan Africa is far from parity at all levels, especially in upper secondary education, where progress has been very slow. Northern Africa which has experienced stagnation due to conflict, is now the region furthest from parity in primary education. Overall, girls are more disadvantaged in low-income countries. More commonly, while boys and girls start primary school on an equal footing, disparity increases progressively. In Togo, for instance, only 4 young women are enrolled in tertiary education for every 10 young men.

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Patterns of growing disparity are often linked to underlying unequal gender norms and institutions, which may affect vulnerable boys and girls differently in differing contexts. Just as gender parity has been achieved on average globally but large gaps remain between countries, the same is true within countries. In general, the interaction of gender with poverty or location tends to work to the disadvantage of girls in poorer countries with low completion rates and social expectations that they marry early, and to the disadvantage of boys in richer countries with high completion rates but social expectations that they enter the labour force early. At the secondary education level, too, the interaction of gender with poverty or location worsens disparity. In Burundi and Malawi, there is gender disparity in lower secondary completion at the expense of girls among poor and rural populations. Practically no poor girls graduate from upper secondary school in several sub-Saharan African countries with completion rates below 20%, including Chad, Côte d’Ivoire and the United Republic of Tanzania.

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There is nothing predetermined about the speed at which countries close the gender gap. New analysis of completion rates by the Global Education Monitoring Report (“GEM Report”) team shows that some countries have been more successful than others. For example, with respect to primary completion, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire were at the same level of gender disparity in 2000, but while Burkina Faso managed to close the gender gap and achieve parity, Côte d’Ivoire stagnated. At the lower secondary level, Nepal overtook Pakistan, Mali moved ahead of Senegal and Afghanistan progressed much faster than South Sudan, which now has the worst gender disparity record. This suggests that political will to address disparity, along with effective policies, can make a difference.

Culled from the Global Monitoring Report, 2019 Gender Report – Building Bridges for Gender Equality

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