Gender equality in education monitoring framework

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Credit: UNICEF / Biju Boro

Genuine progress has been achieved in gender parity in primary and secondary education, although global or regional averages have masked continuing disparity at the individual country level as well as within countries among particular groups, such as the poor. But gender equality in education is a much broader issue. While the formulation of target 4.5 does not refer to gender equality in education, the Education 2030 Framework for Action explicitly recognizes gender equality as a guiding principle, linked to the realization of the right to education and referring to the need for girls and boys, women and men, to be equally empowered ‘in and through education’.

While equalizing education access for girls and boys is a crucial first step towards realizing gender equality in education and the intrinsic right to education for all, schools can reproduce existing gender inequality rather than challenge it. This can manifest through teacher behaviour, expectations and interactions with male and female students; peer group norms; the curriculum (whether gender is explicitly addressed or not); the distribution of education resources; and school structure, organization and management.

In addition to reducing disparity in education attendance and completion, therefore, education for gender equality entails building knowledge and skills to empower disadvantaged girls or boys, depending on context. Students and teachers need to reflect on existing norms and traditions and be encouraged to challenge them. Gender-based discrimination and violence need to be addressed. Healthy life choices should be supported, including with regard to sexual and reproductive health. Interventions to achieve these results can take place through teacher training and curricular reform, among other means.

To address these needs, the Global Education Monitoring Report is applying a gender equality in education monitoring framework, which identifies six domains (see Figure 1). Different indicators can track progress towards equality in each domain using available and often globally comparable data (Table I.1).

1. Education opportunities. This domain focuses primarily on gender parity in participation and learning. The adoption of the parity index by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators to monitor the gender aspects of target 4.5 extends its use beyond enrolment ratios to all education indicators, including learning outcomes.

2. Gender norms and values. Well-established indicators exist on norms, highlighting contextual factors with a direct impact on gender equality in education. These include the child marriage rate, views expressed in the World Values Survey on women’s education and post-education opportunities, and the lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence.

3. Institutions outside education. Annual national implementation reports on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provide information on legislation forbidding gender-based discrimination. The OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index is based on formal and informal laws that restrict women’s and girls’ access to rights, justice and empowerment opportunities across 180 countries.

4. Education laws and policies. There are criteria that assess the gender responsiveness of education sector plans. The extent to which national laws and policies protect and facilitate education of pregnant adolescent girls is an indicator of commitment to gender equality in education. The percentage of schools that provide life skills-based HIV and sexuality education is an indicator that is recognized in the SDG 4 thematic framework.

6. Education systems. Different measures can assess gender equality in learning environments (e.g. water and sanitation, school-related gender-based violence), teachers and teaching (e.g. share of women in education leadership and management positions, teacher education on gender issues), and finance (e.g. percentage of aid to education that is targeted on gender equality).

7. Development outcomes. Education is one of the key factors that influence other development outcomes, such as economic and employment opportunities (e.g. labour force participation rates by sex), political participation and leadership (e.g. proportion of seats held by women in parliaments) and health and well-being (e.g. proportion of adult women who make their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care).


Work is continuing to develop better substantive measures of gender equality in education. A process is currently under way, which involves, among others, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the UN Girls’ Education Initiative and UN Women, to share strategies related to global progress on measurement. The following two statistical tables are a contribution to this debate. Statistical Table 1 refers to the first domain of the gender equality in education monitoring framework, while Statistical Table 2 includes selected indicators on the next four domains. Notes by indicator provide definitions to interpret the data (Table I.2).

The source of the data is the UIS database unless otherwise mentioned in footnotes. The most recent UIS data presented in the tables are from the February 2019 education data release and refer to the school or financial year ending in 2018. This means 2017/18 for countries with a school year that overlaps two calendar years, and 2018 for those with a calendar school year. Education data reported to the UIS are in conformity with the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), revised in 2011. Countries may have their own definitions of education levels that do not correspond to ISCED 2011. Differences between nationally and internationally reported education statistics may be due to the use of nationally defined education levels rather than the ISCED level, in addition to the population issue raised above.

The statistical tables list 209 countries and territories, all of which are UNESCO Member States or associate members. Most report their data to the UIS using standard questionnaires issued by the UIS itself. For 49 countries, education data are collected by the UIS via the UIS/OECD/Eurostat (UOE) questionnaires. In terms of regional groups, the statistical tables use the SDG regional classification of the UN Statistical Division (UNSD), with some adjustments. The UNSD classification includes all territories, whether independent national entities or parts of bigger entities. However, the list of countries presented in the statistical tables includes only full UNESCO Member States and associate members, as well as Bermuda and Turks and Caicos Islands, non-member states that were included in the Education for All statistical tables. The UIS does not collect data for the Faroe Islands, so this territory is not included in the GEM Report despite its status as a UNESCO associate member.

Statistical tables