This year we are marking Beijing+25 as a pivotal milestone for the achievement of gender equality, girls and women’s empowerment, and inclusive and equitable quality education enshrined in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 5. We may find ourselves asking once again: What has changed for women and girls around the world, and what progress can we see towards realizing gender equality in and through education?
Steps towards gender equality in education in Asia-Pacific
Achieving gender parity in education enrollment and completion is an essential first step towards achieving gender equality in education. The Asia-Pacific region, on average, has achieved gender parity in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education enrollment (GPI is .98, 1.002 and 1.013 respectively; UNESCO, 2019).
At the tertiary level, while globally women remain underrepresented in some science and technology fields, there are promising examples from Asia-Pacific. For example, almost half of graduates in engineering are female in Bangladesh (46%) and Brunei (48%), and the same is true for Information Technology (IT) graduates in India (50%), the Philippines (48%) and Thailand (48%).
However, although the emphasis is often placed on increasing access to safe learning, it is important to note that this is not the only barrier to gender equality. Ensuring equal access to quality teaching and learning opportunities remains a challenge.
Harmful social norms hold girls back
The region still has much to do in improving the lives of women and girls who face violence, economic exclusion, and lack of political representation. Harmful socio-cultural norms and structural inequalities are a major barrier to schooling for adolescent girls in particular.
Early marriage and pregnancy, which are often accompanied by social stigma, forced exclusion from school and higher rates of health complications following birth keep many girls out of upper secondary education even if they manage to complete lower secondary education. While the early marriage rate is less than 10% in Kazakhstan (7%), Mongolia (5%), Tonga (6%) and Turkmenistan (6%), it remains high in Bangladesh (59%), Nepal (40%), Lao PDR (35%) and Afghanistan (35%) (UNESCO, 2019).
Compounding these poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes that keep girls from completing their education is a lack of quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). Only six countries in the region, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, have detailed CSE policies and while most have some form of national CSE curriculum, few include CSE at the primary level and data suggests that any implementation of existing curricula may be weak (2015).