Women and girls: education, not discrimination

Click for larger graph

Goal: Empower women and eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005

Picture a country where girls are not allowed to go to school just because they are girls and must work instead. Or where sick babies die because their mothers cannot read the prescription on the medicine bottle. Imagine a society where parents remove their daughters from school at puberty for fear of unwanted pregnancy, and marry them off early to husbands their daughters do not necessarily want.

Such is the plight of girls in many developing countries: they continue to be systematically more disadvantaged than boys solely because of discrimination by gender. Some 60% of the 10 million children not in school in developing nations are girls. The gender gap continues to be unacceptably wide despite the fact that the education of girls and women is now on policymaking agendas in most developing nations and the fact that 44 million more girls attend primary schools in developing countries than in 1990.

Education can make all the difference to a girl’s life, not just economically, but for her human development too. And as Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the UN says, it is a social development policy that works, with immediate benefits for family planning, nutrition, health and, economic productivity as well as social and political participation. The UN has announced a ten-year Girls’ Education Initiative at the recent World Education Forum in Dakar in April 2000. The objective is to get the main countries affected to come up with national action plans by next year that promote gender equality and sensitivity in all aspects of education. The initiative will help countries free up funds for girls’ schooling by helping them to get the most from development cooperation, policy and education reform. The hope is that by 2015, all children everywhere – boys and girls alike – will be able to complete primary schooling education; and to ensure that by then boys and girls will have equal access to all levels of education.

More and more governments now realise the importance of striking a balance in meeting the needs of girls’ and boys’ education. The Egyptian government is integrating a successful concept of girl-friendly community schools – by using female teachers, active learning and child-centred class management – into the formal education system. In Mashan County in China, villages and households that take effective measures to send girls to school are awarded priority for loans or development funds. And a promising initiative in Tanzania aims to help girls speak out about their problems and find solutions to overcome obstacles to their own social and academic development. In other countries, older girls mentor younger girls and coach them during the holidays in mathematics and science.

But education problems affect boys too. Sometimes boys are pulled out of school and sent out to work to boost family income. In Jamaica boys’ drop-out rate is higher than for girls. The government is investigating effective measures for reducing this distortion.

Trading places 

Still, overall there is a gender gap and African and South Asian countries especially have a long way to go to close it. An average six-year-old girl in South Asia can expect to spend six years in school – three years less than a boy of the same age. Girls based in a rural area lose out even more, since they run three times the risk of dropping out of school than a city boy. Discrimination is reinforced in the classroom, as research shows that both male and female teachers tend to give more attention to boys, a trend now being tackled by gender-sensitive training programmes.

Traditional beliefs and practices are often at the root of the gender gap, keeping girls at home to supplement family welfare by working and caring for siblings and the household. The weight of these beliefs and a shortage of alternative opportunities to supplement household income and welfare often cause parents to distrust the education system or to feel they have no choice.

There is an old saying that an intelligent family has an intelligent mother. Certainly, studies suggest that girls with literate mothers are more likely to go to school than girls without. UNESCO underlines the necessity of reaching both girls and their mothers in the same initiative. It is a dual approach which has reaped rewards in rural Mali, where an imaginative community-based campaign using riddles, rhymes and the radio changed long-held attitudes to girls and women. And once the village women were involved in literacy and income-generating activities, they too supported the movement to educate girls.

These are small anecdotes of success, perhaps. But they show that while education may be a powerful tool, it is the simple lessons, in human dignity and mutual respect, that work best in the end.

©OECD Observer No 223, October 2000 




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.6% May 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.4% Mar 2018
Last update: 06 Jul 2018

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • International co-operation, inclusive growth and digitalisation lead the themes of the 2018 OECD Forum in Paris on 29-30 May, under the banner of What brings us together www.oecd.org/forum. It is held alongside the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 30-31 May, chaired this year by France with a focus on multilateralism www.oecd.org/mcm.
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • Ambassador Aleksander Surdej, Permanent Representative of Poland to the OECD, was a guest on France 24’s English-language show “The Debate”, where he discussed French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018