Poverty and Education
While the "gender gap" in education
has narrowed over the last decade, the relative disadvantage
still keeps girls from enrolment in secondary education
in most of South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and several
other developing regions. About 31 per cent of women
were without any formal education in 2000, compared
to 18 per cent of men (18).
There are large variations among countries, with the
widest gaps in North Africa and the narrowest in South
Asia, Latin America and Central Asia.
Enrolment rates show the concentration of gender differentials
in a few regions. South Asia and some countries in West Africa
(Benin, Central African Republic and Chad) and Morocco have
enrolment rates 15 or more percentage points higher for boys than
girls. In several Latin American countries and in the Philippines,
enrolment rates for girls aged 6-14 exceed those for boys.
The gender gap is typically wider
at higher levels of schooling. Women in South Asia have
only half as many years of education as men, and female
enrolment rates at the secondary level are only two
thirds of male rates. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls'
school attendance at age 12-13 is 80 per cent that of
boys but by age 18-19, only half as many girls as boys
are attending school (19).
Investing in education is critical
for the future. If enrolment rates remain constant and
fertility and mortality decline according to expected
trends, there will still be a gender gap in educational
attainment in 2030 (20).
(It would not close completely even if enrolment rates
in all countries rose to current North American levels
by 2030, because of the wide gap among older age groups
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS The
distance to school can be important in deciding whether
girls attend because of family fears of sexual harassment
on the way there. In Pakistan, where there is strict
segregation of the sexes in school, the availability
of schools has been found to affect schooling decisions
for girls but not boys (22).
School facilities and attitudes
towards girls in school can be important, both for the
girls and their parents. A study in Kenya found inadequate
toilet facilities in many schools. Girls were harassed,
and were more likely than boys to be assigned menial
tasks (23). If the
quality of schooling is perceived to be low, parents
may decide that girls can be more use at home. The cost
of school fees, books and uniforms also works against
girls more than boys, especially in poor families. In
sub-Saharan Africa, girls are sometimes vulnerable to
"sugar daddies" who offer to pay school fees in exchange
for sex (24).
Gender disparities within countries
are often greater among the poor (25),
and in some countries continue among the poor after
they have disappeared in wealthier groups (26),
so to be a girl from a poor family is a double disadvantage.
Poor parents may be unwilling to educate girls because
they believe that girls will never earn as much boys.
Their labour is needed immediately to support the family
(27), help with
household chores or care for younger siblings.
Poor communities where women's role
is limited often do not believe that a girl needs formal
education to be a wife and mother. Schooling is seen
as attracting better-educated and financially successful
husbands (28), but
parents expect the benefits of education will go to
the husband's family, not their own.
Pregnancy can also lead to girls
dropping out of school. Poor families with many children
may withdraw daughters from school to help with child
care. A lack of resources for school fees may force
allocation choices that favour boys. School policies
often compel pregnant girls to leave school; others
leave due to marriage (though many girls leave at younger
ages). The contribution of fertility to school discontinuation
varies, but can be important (29).
A review of several country studies in sub-Saharan Africa
found that between 8 and 25 per cent of girls' school
discontinuation was due to pregnancy (30).
CHALLENGES TO INVESTING IN GIRLS'
EDUCATION Some experts believe it is wiser to invest
in expanding and improving education for all children
than to target resources towards girls, which they argue
may reduce those available for boys. Another view is
that programmes designed for girls' needs are required
to get them into the classroom and stay there; and that
investments that lower obstacles for girls also lower
them for boys. Still others take the position that "child-centred"
schools, regardless of the sex of the students, will
work best (31).
Each perspective is being implemented and evaluated
in different countries.
Another policy issue is whether to concentrate on educating
girls or to include reducing illiteracy among adult women. Women
manage their children's health and schooling, so educating them
multiplies the value of investment in education. But some argue
that scarce resources should be concentrated where they will have
the greatest long-term effect.
Gender bias-in curricula, approaches
to teaching, and the overall school environment-is an
important policy concern. Girls may receive less attention
from teachers, be perceived as less smart, and perform
worse academically. This may be because the competitive
and confrontational teaching style prevalent in many
schools is inconsistent with traditionally valued female
traits of passivity and collaboration. Educational materials
typically display strong role models for boys but few
or weak role models for girls. Girls are often not encouraged
to take courses in technical and science fields that
may enhance job opportunities, reinforcing gender segregation
in the job market (32).