» UNESCO report shows less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys equal access to education
17.09.2010 - UNESCOPRESS

UNESCO report shows less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys equal access to education

Two out of three countries in the world face gender disparities in primary and secondary education and as many as half will not achieve the goal of gender parity in education by 2015, according to a new report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

Published on the eve of the United Nations Millenium Summit  (New York 20-22 September and 15 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, the 2010 edition of the Global Education Digest focuses on gender and education. It  reports on the progress and pitfalls in reaching the goal of eliminating gender disparities at all levels of education by 2015.


            “This new data tells us that we need to re-affirm our commitment to education and gender equality,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “The advances made in improving girls’ and women’s access to education and training over the past decades risk being undermined by reductions in international aid and national investments as the world struggles to cope with inter-locking crises. Yet, we all know that compromising the education of girls and women will only lead to more vulnerability and reinforce the vicious cycle of poverty.”


            According to the Digest, boys and girls in only 85 countries will have equal access to primary and secondary education by 2015, if present trends continue. Seventy-two countries are not likely to reach the goal


            Globally, girls are more likely to never enter primary school than boys. In South and West Asia, only about 87 girls start primary school for every 100 boys, according to UIS data. The situation is not much better in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 93 girls begin their primary education for every 100 boys, according to the regional average.


            At the national level, the chances of starting primary school for boys are at least 10% greater than those for girls in Afghanistan, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Yemen. Girls in these countries are often excluded entirely from education. UIS data reveal that households are more likely to send a boy who is past the official entry age to school than a girl.


            However, once girls do gain entry to school, they are more likely than boys to successfully complete primary education. In many countries, boys tend to drop out of school more than girls. Boys are also more likely to repeat primary grades in 90 out of 113 countries reporting data. In particular, repetition rates among boys in primary school are double those for girls in the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Latvia and Saint Kitts and Nevis.


            The situation is even more complex at secondary level. Boys have greater access than girls to secondary education in 38% of countries, while the opposite is true in 29% of countries. However, it should be stressed that disparities against girls in secondary education are more severe than those against boys. This is clearly seen in sub-Saharan Africa where disparities against girls have worsened, according to regional averages. For every 100 boys enrolled in secondary education, there were about 79 girls in 2008 compared to 82 girls in 1999. 


            As is the case at the primary level, once girls gain access to secondary education, they tend to complete their studies more often than boys. This pattern is widespread among middle- and high-income countries, where young women form the majority of students in upper secondary programmes that lead to university in 50 out of 69 countries reporting data. There are nearly three female students for every two males graduating from these programmes in Austria, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Norway, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Thailand and Tunisia. In contrast, young men form the majority of vocational students in most countries.


            Gender disparities are equally marked in tertiary education in all regions of the world. The only countries to achieve parity at this education level are Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Hong Kong SAR of China, Mexico, Swaziland and Switzerland. In countries, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Niger – where the GDP per capita is below PPP$ 3,000 – there are fewer than 35 female tertiary students for every 100 male students. In sub-Saharan Africa, progress has been stagnating for the last decade. On the other hand, in wealthy countries, female students clearly outnumber men as tertiary students.


            In Iceland, there are almost twice as many women enrolled in tertiary education as men. In the United States and the Russian Federation, there are about 129 and 126 female students for every 100 male students, respectively. A similar pattern is found in Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. There are some notable exceptions to this pattern. In particular, men continue to outnumber women in tertiary education in Cyprus, Japan, Macao (China), the Republic of Korea and Turkey. 


            Despite the improved access to tertiary education globally, women face considerable barriers as they move up the education ladder to research careers and in the labour market. At the Bachelor’s degree level, most countries reporting data have achieved gender parity in terms of graduates. Women are more likely to pursue the next level of education, accounting for 56% of graduates with Master’s degrees. However, men surpass women in virtually all countries at the highest levels of education, accounting for 56% of all Ph.D. graduates and 71% of researchers.




Media Contact (UIS):


Amy Otchet, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Montreal.

Tel: +1 514 343 79 33 or +1 514 402 7836.




A b-roll is available and can be downloaded at:



Interviews can be organised with the following experts


Albert Motivans (Tel: +1 514 294 7629) (English) – Author and head of Education Indicators and Data Analysis Unit, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Hendrik van der Pol (Tel: +1 514 244 2525) (English and Spanish) – Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Said Belkachla (+961-71 874 688) (French and Arabic) – Author and Education Data Analyst

Said Voffal (Tel: +1 514 343 7752) (French and Arabic) Education Data Analyst

Juan Cruz Perusia (Tel:+1 514 343 7933) – UIS Statistical Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean


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