How do Mozambique and Zanzibar address the issue of teenage girl pregnancies in school?
What are the laws and regulations that govern gender equality in Malawi or Zambia?
What are Tanzania and Uganda doing to tackle corporal punishment in its education system?
These and many more questions were discussed at last week’s workshop on gender-responsive education sector plans (ESP), held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
This was the first regional workshop organized by GPE and UNGEI, with support from Plan International and Dubai Cares, to pilot the recently published Guidance for developing gender-responsive ESPs. It gathered representatives from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar, Uganda and Zambia.
Collaboration among many stakeholders is critical on gender issues
The workshop purposely targeted planners from ministries of education and ministries dealing with gender issues to give them support and further tools. It also targeted civil society representatives advocating for gender issues in local education groups, as well as development partners.
As a result of joint participation in the workshop, the hope is that participants will be better equipped to understand the viewpoints from other stakeholders, and to better coordinate support for gender equality.
Many participants said they already had policies and programs in place tackling gender, but most also acknowledged the importance of coordination among the various actors to ensure the effectiveness of these programs.
Promoting a common understanding on gender
The workshop started with defining a common terminology for talking about gender, which helped create a common understanding, as these terms and expressions can be confusing or misunderstood (see box on some key definitions).
Exercises encouraged representatives from different countries to share their experiences, which participants thought were extremely useful and even eye-opening in certain cases. For example, how countries handle cases of sexual violence in schools, which may result in pregnancies forcing girls to drop out, varied greatly, from teachers’ employment being terminated to teachers being transferred pending an investigation.
Balancing gender data and assumptions
Reviewing the same graphs on girls' and boys’ dropout rates, participants interpreted the data and recommended strategies to improve retention. It was interesting to see how different assumptions and personal bias played into the recommendations that were presented.
Based on their own ESPs, country delegations selected a goal to improve gender equality and the strategies and activities to achieve it. Presenting their work to the group and hearing feedback helped participants understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals and adjust them as needed.
SOME DEFINITIONS (extracts from the guidance)
Gender sensitive: Indicates gender awareness and means that a policy or program recognizes the important effects of gender norms, roles and relations. It is often contrasted with being gender-blind, which ignores differences in opportunities and resource allocation for women and men.
Gender responsive: Refers to a policy or program, which fulfills two basic criteria: 1. Gender norms, roles and relations are considered, and 2. Measures are taken to actively reduce the harmful effects of gender norms, roles and relations, including gender inequality.
Preparing participants to build gender capacity at home
On the third day of the workshop, country delegations presented a full set of slides to the group, which identified the reasons why gender equality is important in their context, what the main barriers are, the strengths/weaknesses/threats/opportunities and proposals to address them.
The slides can be used by participants as they return home to present to their own colleagues and counterparts and start strengthening capacity on gender equality.
It was good to see that the gender discussion is moving away from a narrower focus on targeting the barriers to girls’ education and gender parity (as many girls as boys in schools) to broader gender equality.
Two further regional workshops will be organized in the next few months to support more GPE partner countries in building gender-responsive capacity in the education sector. This support is critical as only by ensuring that all children have equal opportunities will the sustainable development goal on education be reached.