Over the last several decades, policymakers and practitioners have used gender gaps in school enrollment and attainment as the main indicators of progress in achieving gender equality in education. Based on these measures, in 2014 UNESCO declared that gender parity in primary and secondary education had been achieved globally, averaging the diverse experiences of countries (including high-income countries) with varying levels of school enrollment and attainment. Our analyses of levels and trends in female attainment and gender gaps over ten years in 43 low- and middle-income countries reveal that binary views of whether more boys or girls are in school provide an incomplete and often misleading picture of progress and setbacks in achieving gender equality in education. To develop a more complete picture of progress, data on gender gaps in attainment should be combined with information on: changing enrollment and attainment levels over time; the levels of schooling at which gender gaps emerge and grow; gender-related barriers to school enrollment, progression, and learning; and gender differences in the return on investments in schooling. A more inclusive approach to measuring progress in achieving gender equality in education will inform more effective policies and interventions.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council. Stephanie R. Psaki is Research Associate, Katharine J. McCarthy is Staff Associate, Barbara S. Mensch is Senior Research Associate, Population Council, New York.