Review of interventions enhancing girls’ education and improving gender equality reveals challenges

A new review by Unterhalter et al (2014), in which IIEP and its partners participated, has revealed a number of challenges in interventions to improve girls’ education and gender equality.

The review, “Girls’ education and gender equality”, reveals some controversial findings. For example, targeted cash transfers may improve the chances of getting more girls into school and promote keeping them in school, but increases in enrolment may have an adverse effect on learning achievement. Similarly, girls’ only targeted scholarships to attend school may have adverse effects in terms of isolating the selected girls from their friends and raising feelings of the lack of fairness to disadvantaged boys. There is also insufficient evidence that the provision of toilets, although beneficial, on their own can improves enrolment, progression, or achievement. Employment of female teachers, per se, although essential is not enough, but teacher training for higher levels of subject knowledge and gender sensitivity is vitally important for girls’ learning improvement. And extra-curricular  clubs which focus on gender equality issues are an important space where girls and boys can discuss and challenge gender norms, including those associated with sex, gender-based violence and school progression.

The review suggests that a mixture of interventions is most effective in enhancing girls’ education and improving gender equality.

The rigorous review of evidence on interventions was commissioned by UK Department for International Development (DFID) and carried out collaboratively by staff from the Institute of Education of University of London, UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), University of Cambridge, University of Kwazulu-Natal, and University of California in Berkeley. The review looked at what leads to expansion in girls’ education and improvement of gender equality; and what conditions are necessary for these changes.

A total of 177 research studies were selected for review based on rigorous criteria, after screening of some 1,350 works published since 1991 in five databases. It included hand-searches of journals and reviewing websites of 11 networks or multilateral agencies.

To establish which gender-related interventions have been most effective over the past few decades, a Theory of Change (ToC) was developed. It illustrates that the development and implementation of interventions to improve girls’ schooling and enhance gender equality are influenced by different factors such as the social context, environment and culture at local, national and global levels. These factors affect the existence of complementary legal and regulatory frameworks promoting gender equality, and the authorities’ capacity to implement policy and engage everyone involved in the education system in inclusive dialogue to promote girls education and gender equity.

The ToC (see diagram) illustrated interactions between various types of interventions (resource, policy, and norms) and different levels of outputs (participation, learning, and empowerment).

The review showed that the impact of interventions on resource depends largely on careful targeting of families from disadvantaged background and thoughtful design of programmes to focus on girls who are most at risk, such as those at the grade level where most drop-outs occur. It found that complementary health interventions can also enhance enrolment and lead to improved learning for both boys and girls.

Interventions linked to institutional change and policy can help improve gender equality. For example, having thriving teachers, who are adequately supported and qualified to enhance girls’ schooling through education, have received training, and are motivated, is important for girls education. Sufficient resources for gender mainstreaming at different levels of the education system can help embed a concern with gender in educational institutions. Effective interventions are associated with a ‘quality mix’ – a combination of a number of different approaches to enhancing quality which include explicit concerns such as gender equality in teaching, learning and management, gender-sensitivity to curriculum, learning materials and pedagogical practices for schools and classrooms as well as appreciation of the local context.

The review found that interventions which focus on increasing participation of marginalized groups in decision-making are both under-researched and under-resourced. Further research is needed on interventions in areas such as girls’ clubs, faith communities, work with boys on gender equality, strategies to include marginalized girls and women in decision-making, and action on gender-based violence.

Read the Review - Education Rigorous Literature Review: Girls’ Education and Gender Equality

Read the Brief – Evidence Brief: Girls’ Education and Gender Equality