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How gender resonates in different contexts !

What Southern Voice’s State of the Sustainable Development Goals (SVSS) initiative found is that exclusion is highly context-dependent. Gender, a critical exclusion marker, is a perfect illustration of this. Gender issues are still the main determinants of access to quality education and decent work in many parts of the world. They cut across different patterns according to regions, countries and levels of education and training.


Although gender disparities are narrowing worldwide, there are still notable differences by world region and school age. Almost everywhere, primary-age girls are disadvantaged. There is an exception in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it is young boys who are more likely to be out of school. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, girls of all ages are more likely to be excluded than boys. In primary school, 23% more girls than boys are out of school. In Asia, efforts are still necessary at the primary level, although on a smaller scale. Also here, girls are more likely to be out of school than boys. At the adolescent level, on the other hand, the situation is favourable for girls in South Asia and East and South-East Asia. Only Central Asia has promising statistics for boys. At upper secondary education, there are also significant disparities in favour of girls in East and South-East Asia.

Country-level analysis of access to quality education

A more detailed analysis at the country level shows different characteristics. In Nigeria, for instance, women are excluded from quality education. Only 19% of women can read compared to 32% of men. Further disaggregation shows that, for men, results are above the national average (24%) in all regions except for the Northeast. Women post results below the national average in all areas except the South.

In Peru, on the other hand, there is no negative gender gap between the performance of boys and girls of primary age. In high school, girls have an advantage in reading while in mathematics, they lag as they are 3.8% more likely to be left behind than boys.

In Bolivia, the gap between boys and girls is closing. The implementation of the education revolution generated a sharp drop in repetition rates from 7.3% in 2011 to 4% in 2017 for boys and from 4.8% to 2.1% for girls in the same period. Girls also have lower dropout rates in primary and secondary education. It is only in higher education where a slight gender difference in favour of men, with 50.6% of women against 57.0% of male students appears.

Gender and access to the labour market

While girls are less likely to be left behind in education, gender disparities are pervasive in the labour market. In many parts of the world, women still earn less than men, are more likely to be unemployed and work in precarious conditions. In Peru, for example, being a woman is strongly associated with being left behind in decent work. It increases the probability of being NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) by 10.7% and working precariously by 12.4%.

In India, discrimination based on sex can be observed at the household and workplace level. Informal practices and social norms play a crucial role in perpetuating this gender-based discrimination at both household and workplace levels. For example, obstacles to education linked to married life and motherhood can largely explain the decision by Indian women to participate in the labour force.

The case of Sri Lanka in the garment sector illustrates how gender in a specific context could be a factor of exclusion. Rural women living near export processing zones (EPZs) can organize collectively, even for night shifts. With the possibility of adapting to the work base posted in large companies and taking care of domestic tasks at the same time, these rural resident workers are in a much better position than migrant women.

Gender-based discrimination does not always affect women. In the case of Bolivia, for instance, young non-indigenous men living in urban areas are the group most often left out. Similarly, in Peru, depending on the subject, boys or girls are marginalized. Boys are left behind in reading while girls perform less in mathematics. Hence the importance of having disaggregated data to refine the analyses taking into account multiple dimensions (rural/urban, regional disparity, ethnicity, etc.).

Although gender-based exclusion is ubiquitous, it does not always produce the same results. In Peru, tremendous progress has been made in narrowing the gender gap. However, those who have completed their education are not always able to access a job, which highlights the fact that access to education may still result in a different kind of exclusion of opportunities. In India, even though gender-sensitive policies are in place, they are not effective because of social norms and cultural practices that place women in disadvantaged positions relative to men.

This quick overview highlights the importance of context in understanding exclusion phenomena in general and of gender in particular. One of the implications is to avoid generic “One Size Fits All” interventions. What is instead needed is the development of inclusion policies based on rigorous contextual analysis so that solutions are appropriate and effective.

By PhD. Ibrahima Hathie, Research Director at IPAR Senegal

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