Good policy is sharp policy. It is policy that targets specific problems and bottlenecks. For this, we need a clear picture of what is happening and good data. This first World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education responds to this need on one of the most important questions for human rights and sustainable development today.

Girls and women remain deprived of full and equal opportunities for education. There has been progress towards parity at the primary level, but this tapers off at the secondary level in developing regions. The global economic crisis is deepening inequalities, made worse by cuts in education budgets and stagnating development support. Gender equality is one of the six goals of the global Education for All campaign that UNESCO leads. This was launched in 2000, when the countries of the world agreed to “eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieve gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality”.

Gender equality is essential for protecting universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is also a powerful development accelerator. The education of girls and women can lead to a wide range of benefits – from improved maternal health, reduced infant mortality and fertility rates to increased prevention against HIV and AIDS. For this to happen, we need to target the gender gap at every level.

This Atlas illustrates the linkages between different levels, and it situates issues of gender equality in a broader context. Equality in education must be integrated into wider policies at the economic, social and political levels. This is how the transformational power of education for girls and women can translate into sustainable development for society as a whole. Maps are a way to understand the world; they are also excellent tools to communicate to a wide audience. This Atlas allows readers to access information at a glance and to examine issues of gender equality from different perspectives.

This is possible thanks to the availability of sex-disaggregated data in education, produced by UNESCO’s pioneering Institute for Statistics. The Institute regularly develops sex-disaggregated statistics for all levels of education in order to monitor the progress of girls and the educational attainment levels of women. It creates new indicators to provide policy-relevant information at the national and international levels. All of this allows for a clearer picture to emerge on gender progress and gaps.

This Atlas is a map of the world; it is also a call to action, to concentrate ever more on promoting gender equality in education as a human right and a development multiplier.

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