International framework

“Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace. Non-discriminatory education benefits both girls and boys and thus ultimately contributes to more equal relationships between women and men.”1

With SDG 4 the Agenda 2030 aims to increase access to education at all levels and to increase enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls.2 This goal is supported by the G7 nations who pledged in the Leader’s Declaration at the Elmau Summit (2015) to increase the number of women and girls who are educated and trained in developing countries.3

Worldwide, 758 million adults are illiterate. Two -thirds of them are women, with almost no progress since 2000 in reducing this share4


Status and progress in girls’ and women’s education

SDG 4 calls for the achievement of universal primary education. There has been significant progress over the past decade and equality in enrolment rates of girls and boys has largely been achieved. However, challenges remain: High dropout rates and a rural-urban divide in access to education are key obstacles to achieving universal primary education. Over one-third of countries are still to achieve gender parity in primary education.5

Progress of primary school enrolment: Net enrolment rate, primary (in %)6



North America
South America


Globally, the gender gap widens in secondary and tertiary education.8 Boys still go to school longer than girls. Moreover, there are high regional differences: Whereas girls and boys in Latin America and the Caribbean spent almost the same amount of time in school, girls in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States spent on average approximately two years less in school than boys.

Mean years of schooling (2002-2012)7


Why education matters

“Literacy of women is an important key to improving health, nutrition and education in the family and to empowering women to participate in decision-making in society”.9 Education is the entry point to formal employment for women and girls. It reduces the gender wage gap and contributes to women’s empowerment.10

However, curricula can reinforce traditional gender stereotypes that place girls in a subservient role and hinder their gender-equitable learning. Gender-responsive curricula are fundamental in addressing issues directly affecting girls and boys and their schooling.11

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 4% of literate girls are married by age 15, while more than one in five illiterate girls are married by this age.12
  • Maternal education reduces fertility rates: In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average number of births per women with no education is 6.7, with primary education 5.8 and with secondary education 3.9.13
  • If all women in Sub-Saharan Africa completed primary education, the maternal mortality ratio would fall by 70%, from 500 to 150 deaths per 100,000 births.14
  • If all girls had secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64%, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.15

Barriers to women’s and girls' education

Some of the barriers to women’s and girls’ education are:

  • School fees
  • Long distances to school
  • Household obligations, child labour, child marriages, early pregnancy
  • Cultural norms favouring boys education, when the family has limited resources
  • Inadequate sanitary facilities in schools, such as lack of private and separate latrines
  • Gender-based violence and female genital mutilation
  • Negative classroom environments such as violence against girls, sexual harassment, exploitation and corporal punishment
  • Lack of female teachers 17


32 million girls are out of school worldwide. 15 million of these girls are expected to never enrol in school.16

Girls, who probably will be enrolled
Girls never expected to enroll
  1. UN (1995):Beijing Declaration and Platform for Education: Art. 69.
  2. UN (2015): Transformation unserer Welt: die Agenda 2030 für nachhaltige Entwicklung.; p. 15
  3. G7 (2015): Leader’s Declaration G7 Summit.; p.20
  4. UNESCO (2016): Global Education Monitoring Report. Gender Review.; p. 26
  5. UNESCO (2016): Global Education Monitoring Report. Gender Review.; p.15
  6. UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2016): “Indicator: Education. Net enrollment rate by level of education”.
  7. UNDP (2015): “Human Development Report 2015. Statistical annex”. ; S.223
  8. UNESCO (2016): Global Education Monitoring Report. Education for People and Planet.; p.262
  9. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995): Art. 69.
  10. UNESCO (2014): “EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 18.
  11. UNESCO (2014): “EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 47.
  12. UNESCO (2014): “EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 29.
  13. UNESCO (2014): “EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 31.
  14. UNESCO (2014): „ EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 2.
  15. UNESCO (2014): „EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 2.
  16. UNICEF (2016): Global Education Monitoring Report. Gender Review.; p. 16
  17. UNESCO (2014): “EFA Global Monitoring Report. Gender Summary”. p. 1 and UNICEF (2015): “Girls’ Education and Gender Equality”.