Malala Yousafzai has spent her life – and nearly gave her life – fighting for the right of girls to be educated. She has been an enormously effective campaigner, speaking on behalf of the millions of girls desperate to go to school in her native Pakistan. And she has taken her campaign global with her Malala Fund, a not-for-profit organization investing in community-led programs and supporting education advocates around the world.
Last October Malala, who had become famous enough to be known simply by her first name and had begun attending secondary school in the United Kingdom, also became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. That same month, the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society convened for its annual meeting in Deauville, France, where the programme examined, among other topics, the worldwide gender gap in education. We also considered the employment prospects for those women who have managed to secure an education for
While important gains have been made in primary and secondary schools across much of the world, it is still much too early to declare victory as far as gender parity is concerned. A report compiled by the Boston Consulting Group with the support of OECD and released during the Women’s Forum Global Meeting within the Engage the Future initiative, found that, despite strong progress over the past 10 years, secondary schooling will continue to represent a key challenge for the coming years in OECD countries. Attendance for both boys and girls is lower in secondary school than it is in primary school. And girls are still less likely to attend secondary school than are boys.
Some girls live in areas where there are no schools, or the enrolment fees are cost-prohibitive. In some cases, when parents can only afford to send one child to school, sons are favoured over daughters. In other cases, girls are routinely discriminated against – denied an education due to their gender.
The study went on to show that, if countries were to engage pro-actively in boosting secondary school enrolment, the impact would be significant in terms of millions of children and, particularly, millions of girls, in secondary schools by 2020. The report suggested a holistic approach to improving schooling: both from the demand side - making families want their girls to attend school and enabling them to do so - and from the supply side - providing access to quality schooling and answering gender-specific needs.
Higher education, however, presents a different picture. Since the 1990s there have been more women than men enrolled in higher education worldwide. In many countries in different regions of the world, women are now outnumbering men in college-level education and they are also graduating more successfully. Yet despite the increasing numbers of women attending university-level courses, gender disparity persists, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering, and maths (so-called STEM fields), where women have been historically under-represented. Among the factors blamed for this discrepancy are a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in certain STEM jobs. Regardless of the causes, this underrepresentation of women has remained fairly constant over the past decade, even as women’s share of the college-educated workforce has increased. Several important initiatives have arisen to address this particular problem, among them the Irène-Joliot-Curie Prize and the L'Oréal-UNESCO Prize which award study grants to women in the sciences, but decision-makers in the public, private and academic spheres will have to play a bigger role if real progress is to be made.In Europe, the problem is not simply how many women attend university, but how much compensation they receive for their work after they graduate. In December 2014 the International Labor Organization released statistics showing that, while women in Europe may be better educated and work harder than their male counterparts, they are paid substantially less. The gender pay gap in Europe ranges from about 100 euros to 700 euros per month, the ILO report stated.
In Europe in 2010, the bottom-earning 10% of women workers earned about 100 euros per month less than the bottom 10% of men. And the top 10% of high-earning women earned close to 700 euros per month less than the top 10% of men. The ILO recommended a number of ways to overcome the difference in pay between men and women, including wage policies and equality legislation.
The point is, even as we applaud the extraordinary achievements of Malala, we must not lose sight of the women and girls who continue to lack access to education and equal opportunities for gainful employment.
by Jacqueline Franjou, CEO, Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society
This article is part of a special series on education for girls and women empowerment published on the WISE ed.review platform. You can read other articles here.