Celebrating 60 years of IIEP’s planning for gender equality and inclusion

20 October 2023


©Curt Carnemark / World Bank

This blog was written by Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre. It was first published on World Education Blog.

As the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) celebrates 60 years, this blog highlights how educational planning promotes gender equality and inclusion. IIEP’s work recognises that equity in education goes beyond equal distribution of opportunities and resources. It means actively addressing systemic inequalities and discrimination to give all learners an equal chance.

Working collaboratively with ministries of education and key stakeholders

An important marker of IIEP’s success is its approach to working with ministries of education, as well as with UN and international agencies, such as UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Plan International, and the African Union. Through partnerships, IIEP seeks to understand why exclusion persists and supports the identification of solutions by placing equity, gender equality and inclusion at the heart of planning, policies, budgets, and educational reforms. The importance of such collaboration is exemplified in the GPE paper Going further together: A partnership approach to gender equality.

Tracking progress in education plans as a starting point

Our chapter in the UNESCO Institute for Statistics handbook on measuring equity in education drew on IIEP’s repository of education plans to identify the extent to which indicators for tracking progress towards national and global targets are disaggregated by different population groups. Fewer than half of 75 plans accessed included sex-disaggregated data for participation in education. Other dimensions (such as location, wealth, disability) were even less likely to be included. Indicators for tracking progress that intersected gender with these dimensions were almost non-existent.

Beyond parity to transformation

While tracking progress in access and learning is needed, achieving parity is by no means sufficient. The GPE paper spotlights the importance of gender transformative system change in access to, within, and through education. This requires paying attention to the role gender plays in boys’ and girls’ experiences within the education system, as well as the potential to engage young people as agents for change through education. A gender perspective on change within education systems is needed, together with influence on wider social norms that can hinder progress. This involves both recognising the power dynamics that exist at all levels of -making and service delivery; and mobilising multiple actors to address root causes of gender inequality (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: System change to address gender equality in access to, within and through education

Source: Global Partnership for Education, 2023, p.7

A blog by the REAL Centre and UNGEI stresses this focus on systems and norm change. Girls continue to face greater threats to their rights and generally have fewer resources and opportunities, directly impacting their ability to fully and equally participate in education (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Girls face greater threats to their rights and have fewer resources and opportunities

Source: Ciampi, Rose and Ganguli It’s not girls versus boys, it’s all children against gender inequality, UNGEI, April 2022.

Learners often face gender stereotypes in curriculum. Addressing these should be integral to gender transformative education. An UNGEI Learning Brief looks at emerging evidence from 11 countries to shift knowledge and attitudes about gender stereotypes among students, teachers and parents through curricula. While reforms needed are likely to be context specific, IIEP can play a key role in working with governments to identify effective strategies to address this.

Greater attention to gender-responsive pedagogy within classrooms

Even when girls overcome barriers to attending school, learning experiences can often be deeply gendered, with approaches that fail to address, or even exacerbate, existing disadvantages embedded within standard teaching practices. Educational planning and implementation needs to give a stronger focus to gender-responsive pedagogy. This has the dual aim of tackling gender social norms, including how teachers interact with girls and boys in the classroom, as well as helping teachers to reduce potentially harmful - sometimes unconscious - classroom practices. A gender-responsive pedagogy model developed by FAWE aims to equip and empower teachers by using gender-aware classroom processes and practices.

Our recent independent evaluation of the FCDO Girls’ Education Challenge found that training to teachers improved the adoption of gender-responsive pedagogies. It highlighted that ongoing support is essential to ensure teachers avoid using gender-biased or gender-harmful practices. By working with ministries of education, IIEP can help ensure that strategies to prevent such bias are included in planning and implementation.

Tackling gender-based violence

Tackling gender-based violence also requires greater attention. As highlighted in a REAL Centre and UNGEI blog, data on gender-based violence remains limited and can be difficult to measure.  A UNESCO report on boys’ disengagement from education finds that available data indicate that boys in school are impacted by physical bullying and corporal punishment especially those who are, or are perceived to be, LGBTQI. Girls are more likely to be victims of non-consensual sex attempts in schools and this is worsened in times of conflict. Fear of sexual violence can cause girls to drop out or be pulled out of school by parents, and girls who drop out are at higher risk of child marriage. Such attacks can have long-term consequences, including early pregnancies, and stigma associated with sexual violence and rape. Girls are also affected by female genital mutilation, and by being conditioned that gender violence is the norm.

Sustaining national and global political will with adequate resources

Where education plans do show greater ambition in achieving gender transformation, too often they are not provided with sufficient resources or the technical capacity to ensure implementation. Examples of gender-responsive budgeting in education are sparse, but where available, suggest it is important for ensuring resources are available to support gender-responsive planning. This can result in ambition becoming little more than rhetoric. Sustained national and global political will to promote gender equality and inclusion requires long-term commitment and investment.

One notable example that supports governments to achieve gender transformation is the Gender at the Centre Initiative. With technical leadership and coordination by IIEP and UNGEI, the Initiative has played a role in bringing together senior civil servants in ministries of education for workshops to build capacity on designing and implementing gender-responsive education sector plans.

Data and evidence to inform planning and ensure accountability

Research evidence is needed to provide political leaders and planners with direction for policy and reform. IIEP plays an important role as broker of such evidence, for example through its Learning Portal. As a blog published by the Center for Global Development highlights, there is a need for more research in areas that prevent gender transformation from becoming a reality. The REAL Centre’s research with CAMFED suggests that improving education for marginalised girls can enable them to be catalysts for change in their communities.

Gender transformative education requires everyone working together to reshape attitudes and practices so that no child or young person is left behind. IIEP must continue to work with partners to put gender transformation at the heart of educational planning in the coming decades.

This blog is based on a forthcoming chapter of an IIEP-UNESCO publication to mark 60 years of service in educational planning and management worldwide.