Global Sustainable Development Congress2022: Education is key to achieving gender equality

2022: Education is key to achieving gender equality


Higher education institutions have a “clear, strategic role to play” in working towards gender equality goals

Education is the most important driver for girls’ and women’s empowerment, Stefania Giannini, assistant director general of education at Unesco, told the Global Sustainable Development Congress 2022, held by Times Higher Education in partnership with the University of Glasgow.

Educated people are more likely to be healthy, better paid and more empowered to participate in social, civic, political and economic life, all of which are essential to sustainable development, she said.

“Higher education institutions have a clear strategic role to play, not only in putting inclusion and equity at the centre of their policies and progress, but also to place a gender lens across disciplines and research to advance gender equality as much as possible in the coming years,” she said.

Although advances have been made in the past few decades, many girls and young women around the world remain at an extreme disadvantage. In at least 20 countries for which Unesco has data, less than 1 per cent of poor young women in rural areas completed secondary school education, and in sub-Saharan Africa more than one in four young women are completely illiterate, Giannini said.

However, boys are also failing to advance and complete their education, she said, noting that this comes at a high cost because these young men are less likely to condemn gender-based violence. Research has shown that men with a secondary school education are more likely to condemn gender-based violence.

Giannini called for urgent action to shatter the barriers that keep young people from education. “First, we must finance far-reaching, bold and evidence-based actions on the key levers that can disrupt the status quo,” she said.

It is also important to “meet people where they are”, she said, pointing to an initiative in Cambodia in which Unesco built a functional literacy programme for women in garment factories, to empower them to be better able to understand their rights.

Different actors, from governments to stakeholders in health, justice, and other sectors, must come together to chart intergenerational action, she said.

“We must drive action that promotes changes in school policies, in curricula shifts, in the minds of teachers and their pedagogical practice,” she said. “It’s about creating what we call safe, healthy spaces, free from gender-based violence. And it’s a complex job.”

We must recognise that “learning for all is a smart investment, and we must finance it adequately, appropriately”, she said. 

“We cannot achieve sustainable development – we cannot achieve any real progress – without quality inclusive education, especially for those who were left behind. That means girls and women.”


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