African women still lose out

March 9, 2001

Most sub-Saharan African countries are losing the fight against gender inequality in higher education as a result of failure to implement policies at primary level.

On average, the literacy rate for adult women stands at 49.6 per cent compared with 66 per cent for men. The gender balance in primary schools has been almost static for the past 20 years, according to Ruth Meena, principal researcher for the Forum for African Women Educationalists.

A report by FAWE says women have lost out because of the poor rate of transition from primary to secondary education. In Togo, only 13 per cent of the post-secondary student population is female. In Tanzania, females make up only 16 per cent of the higher education student body; in the Central African Republic it is 11 per cent and in Ethiopia 20 per cent. Even countries with a long history of education have low numbers of women students.

"For every 100,000 women in Uganda, only 118 are enrolled in tertiary education, Zambia 135, Senegal 120 and Kenya 125," says FAWE.

In addition to low levels of participation, women are concentrated in "female disciplines". Even in South Africa, where women comprise 48 per cent of enrolments, the apparent equality masks disparities in terms of fields of study, says the report.

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