Gender Equality, HIV and Education

©UN PHOTO 157981 00PN ISAAC

Gender inequality not only affects access to education but increases vulnerability to HIV. The role that the education sector can have in changing this trend is examined in a new UNESCO publication, Gender Equality, HIV and Education, one of a series of booklets on good policy and practice in HIV and health education.

This new publication stresses that tackling these issues is crucial to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially the MDGs on primary education and promoting gender equality, as well as other international commitments regarding education, human rights, equality and social justice.

By addressing topics of gender equality, poverty, the role of education, engagement between education and the wider community and young people’s leadership, the booklet aims to highlight experiences, innovative approaches and lessons learned, in order to inform future policy and programming.

Improving access to education

Good practice in increasing access and retention to education for girls is highlighted, including structural interventions such as cash transfers. These can also have a positive impact on HIV prevention for girls, offering more important benefits that previously thought. Poverty is not the only factor limiting educational opportunity – other barriers include cultural factors, the school environment, sexual harassment and gender based violence. These same factors have a critical impact on HIV risk and vulnerability.

A safe learning environment and appropriate educational content

© 2011 Lutheran World Relief, Courtesy of Photoshare

The authors highlight the need for good quality content in the curriculum on the subjects of HIV and gender as well as for a gender-safe school environment. Girls and boys learn about gendered attitudes, roles, expectation and behaviours at school meaning that the school environment can either be a force for change or reinforce prevailing gender norms.  

Comprehensive sexuality education is a proven and effective vehicle for HIV prevention and for addressing cultural norms about gender. The publication offers a range of examples for improving the quality of sexuality education delivery and that of school environments.   

Urgent action to reduce existing inequalities in wealth and education can have an impact on gender equality and HIV, the booklet notes. Education has a key role to play in breaking patterns that have been passed down through generations. In addition to immediate solutions, long-term investments in the content of education and the environment will have a greater effect if combined. 

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