Gender Inequality and the Right to Education

Despite the world’s efforts to promote gender equality in education, millions of girls and women still face limitations in their personal and professional lives due to factors such as poverty, cultural beliefs, discrimination, and violence, which lie at the root of this problem. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including examining gender comparisons, considering intergenerational effects, and ongoing advocacy for change.

Gender equality in education is a crucial human right that is safeguarded by several core United Nations (UN) human rights instruments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, acknowledges this right in Article 26. In addition, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) further elaborates on educational rights, including equal access to education, the purpose of education, how the educational system should function, the importance of high-quality education, discipline in schools, and legal obligations. This right is also enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

In 2015, the UN created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include 17 goals that are intended to be achieved by 2030 (SDG UN). SDG 4, which focuses on quality education, aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. To promote this goal, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) developed the Education 2030 Agenda. It requires all states to allocate at least 4 to 6 percent of GDP and/or at least 15 to 20 percent of public expenditure to education. Currently, all countries have signed and ratified at least one treaty related to education equality, which holds them accountable for their educational policies.

Based on the most current statistics, Although we recognize that some progress since 1990, the most current statistics are concerning. There are over 62 million primary school-aged children who are out of school, with 33 million of them being girls.

While we acknowledge that there has been some progress since 1990, the latest statistics are worrying. Currently, over 62 million children of primary school age are not attending school, and out of this number, 33 million are girls.

The primary school-age children who are not receiving an education based on a country’s income level and region of the world are depicted in Figures 1 and 2. Wealthier regions have a negligible number of children out of school, while poorer regions, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, have millions of children without access to education. Surprisingly, the number of out-of-school children is higher in middle-income economies than in low-income ones.

Figures 3 and 4 display the statistics on the number of out-of-school girls, categorized by a country’s income level and global region, respectively. It is not surprising that the trends observed for girls are consistent with those identified for the overall population.

Promoting education equality is essential for improving the quality of life for more than half of the population and future generations. Educating women, in particular, can reduce poverty, gender-based violence, and inequality within communities. SDG 4 aims to provide opportunities for everyone regardless of gender or social class. Educated women are better informed about family planning, leading to better health outcomes and financial stability for themselves and their families. However, when girls are denied the right to education, it leads to detrimental outcomes such as higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, poverty, and child mortality. Denying access to education reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, which can create a generational cycle.

Gender discrimination is prevalent in education around the world, reproducing patriarchal systems that promote gender inequality gender. Providing women with the same educational opportunities as men is one way to help break the cycle of gender stereotypes, discrimination, negative generational cycles, and violence against women. Through equal access to education, women can overcome the barriers that have prevented them from realizing their full potential and help societies achieve their sustainable development goals.

About the authors

Alivia Salls is a senior majoring in Business and minoring in Theatre, Arts Administration, and Political Science.

Casey Richardson is a senior, majoring in International Relations and minoring in History, at Drew University.

Erisdania Martinez is a senior at Drew University, where she is majoring in International Relations and minoring in Law, Justice and Society.

Melissa Flores is a senior majoring in Political Science at Drew University.

Editor’s note: This entry was written for Drew University's PSCI 333 International Human Rights.