RIGHTS: Women More Educated, Not More Equal

Posted on 01 March 2010 by editor

Students in school in Quibdó, capital of Chocó province, Colombia. Credit:Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

By Mario Osava *

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 1, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – When it comes to female education rates, progress has been made around the world, and in many countries girls and young women have outnumbered and outperformed boys and men at all levels of schooling for decades. Nevertheless, these advances have yet to translate into greater equity in employment, politics and social relations.

In Brazil, for example, 53.3 percent of newly enrolled university students in 2007 were women, who have almost consistently accounted for 55 percent or more of first-year students over the last 15 years. Moreover, the proportion of women among university graduates every year is over 60 percent, which demonstrates that they are more successful students as well.

In fact, females represent a majority at every level of education in Brazil, and the average rate of schooling among Brazilian women is more than one year higher than that of men. Yet women continue to earn 30 percent less than men for the same work, and they occupy a mere 56 of the 594 seats in the Brazilian Congress.

In the Philippines, where women have scored higher than men on literacy for many years, 17.83 percent of women graduate from college compared to 8.24 percent of men, according to data from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW).

But women tend to pursue higher studies in areas like education and health, while men represent over 80 percent of engineering and law students.

Women also comprise the overall majority among university students in South Africa, although not within traditionally male disciplines like engineering. And while women now have much more significant representation in academia, this trend does not continue to the highest ranks.

In Chile as well, women outnumber men in all areas of education, according to the government’s 2009 Territorial Gender Inequity Index, which is based on literacy rates, years of schooling and net coverage of primary and secondary education.

But women make up only 42 percent of the active workforce, and earn 30 percent less than their male colleagues.

“Education alone cannot work miracles,” observed Fulvia Rosemberg, a researcher at the Brazilian-based Carlos Chagas Foundation. When it comes to overcoming the inequality of opportunities between the sexes, changing values and attitudes is much more complex, she noted, adding, “As long as child care is not available for all families, there will be no structural changes in women’s participation in the labour market.”

Brazil is a prime example. Only 18 percent of children aged three and under are enrolled in daycare centres, said Rosemberg, who is also a professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo. Moreover, at most Brazilian schools, children only attend classes for half a day, and since women are primarily responsible for child care within the family, this extra responsibility clearly deprives them of “comparable conditions” to men with regard to employment opportunities, she told TerraViva.

In addition, gender equity extends to education itself. School curricula, textbooks and teaching methods reinforce stereotypes that devalue the role of women and confine them to the home and to low-status jobs and careers, Rosemberg explained. At university, most women opt for the social sciences, while the “hard” sciences and technology are a primarily male domain.

Educational changes in favour of girls and women have advanced rapidly, but cultural changes are slower, and institutional changes slower still, commented Brazilian sociologist Moema Viezzer, founder of the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Popular Education Network. Created 29 years ago, the Network organises an annual campaign to promote non-sexist education launched every Jun. 21.

It took decades of struggle by the Brazilian feminist movement to achieve a place for women in the government and Supreme Court, said Viezzer. The Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 in Beijing represented a “qualitative leap” by promoting public policies in pursuit of gender equity, leading governments to undertake programmes that were formerly the exclusive domain of non-governmental organisations.

This March 1-12, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is carrying out a fifteen-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at U.N. headquarters in New York. Ensuring equal access to all levels of education for girls and women was one of the 12 priorities established in the Beijing Platform for Action.

In addition to education with an appropriate gender focus, affirmative action measures and popular education are needed to achieve true gender equity, stressed Viezzer.

For her part, Schuma Schumacher of the non-governmental Human Development Network of Brazil pointed out that the superior educational achievements made by women have had no impact on their treatment in the workforce, where they continue to face major disadvantages when it comes to employment conditions, negotiations and promotions.

Africa presents a less promising picture

Around the world, according to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010, the proportion of girls among children not in school fell from 58 to 54 percent between 1999 and 2007. In other words, while progress has been made, girls still have less access to education than boys.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there were 89 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school in 2006, according to the most recent report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of development and anti-poverty targets adopted by the international community in 2000. The situation is even worse in secondary school, where girls account for only 80 percent of enrolment. In general, girls make up 55 percent of the out-of-school population.

The 2008 MDG report points to drought, food shortages, armed conflict, poverty, lack of birth registration, child labour, and HIV and AIDS as contributors to low school enrolment and high dropout rates in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly for girls.

Almost 12 million girls in the region are expected never to enrol in school, compared with seven million boys, and attitudes are slow in changing. “The education of women is sometimes viewed with suspicion, especially in communities where patriarchal standards may be destabilised,” commented Muleya Mwananyanda, coordinator of the Global Campaign for Education’s Global Action Week.

But there are encouraging signs, nonetheless. “Communities have realised that educating girls tends to give higher dividends,” noted Mwananyanda. “I met a woman who said that ‘educating a girl educates a whole village,’ as educated women are more likely to send their daughters to school.”

In the meantime, 17 of the 41 sub-Saharan African countries listed in UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010 have achieved gender parity in primary education.

Exceptions

The situation in sub-Saharan Africa is an exception to worldwide trends. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there were 107 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school in 2006, while in East and Southeast Asia the number of girls was 101 and 102 for every 100 boys, respectively, reflecting even higher female enrolment than the gender parity seen in the industrialised North.

Nevertheless, the second-largest country in Latin America, Mexico, has seen a backslide in the education policies implemented in pursuit of gender equity following Beijing.

Advances in school enrolment and attendance resulted in equivalence in male-female enrolment, and efforts were made to achieve greater gender balance in professional and post-graduate training and to eliminate gender stereotypes, explained Clara Jusidman, president of the non-governmental Citizens and Social Development Initiative.

However, since 2000 and the arrival in power of the conservative National Action Party – first under Vicente Fox and subsequently Felipe Calderón, president since 2006 – the education system has seen a resurgence of old values and stereotypes around the roles of men and women.

Today, there are numerous Mexican states governed by conservative politicians that do not permit textbooks with information on sex education and reproductive rights, said Jusidman.

* With additional reporting from Nastasya Tay (Johannesburg), Kara Santos (Manila), Emilio Godoy (Mexico City) and Daniela Estrada (Santiago). (END)

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