Educational planners explain what it means to be gender responsive during eye-opening short course

02 February 2022


Sylvain Cherkaoui/IIEP-UNESCO Dakar
Students in school in Senegal.

More than 45 education professionals from 21 English-speaking African countries completed the first English edition of IIEP’s Short Course on Gender Responsive Educational Planning. Several of the participants, of which two-thirds were women, said they hadn’t realised the scale of gender issues in their home countries before participating. 

Worldwide, many countries are falling short of the Education 2030 targets related to gender equality in education. Strengthening capacities in gender responsive sector planning is therefore a key component to achieving equitable and inclusive quality education for all.  

Through diverse and complementary regional and country-specific activities, the Gender at the Centre Initiative (GCI) course is the first step in building capacity and facilitating collaboration and discussion. 

“In my country, the biggest challenge is the assumption that there are no gender issues,” said Miriam Maroba, deputy permanent secretary for policy development at the Ministry of Basic Education in Botswana. “The assumption is that as we offer the same to everyone, what would be the challenge really? But we have a very big challenge of girls dropping out of school at an early age. From the onset, you find that that disadvantages them,” she said.  

Amon Zondera, a district school inspector from Uganda, had a similar impression after the 11-week short course. “This course has opened my eyes. It’s been an exciting exploratory moment of self-discovery. I used to think that things are OK. Whenever we talk about gender, gender disparity, gender inequality, gender empowerment, I would assume that we are on common ground. Not until I did this course, did I realize that things are really not OK,” said Zondera. 

Entirely online, this training programme comprises three sequential modules. Through an online learning platform and regular remote live sessions, participants may exchange and learn from each other’s experiences and consolidate skills that they can use for gender mainstreaming.  

“It was my first time doing a course online, so it was a real learning experience. I was able to interact with people from all over Africa and share ideas. We shared challenges. It was very interesting. But what I’ve taken away from this course is really a change of mindset,” said Zondera. 

GCI supports change at all levels from policies to communities

IIEP’s Gender at the Centre Initiative intends to implement change at different levels within all actors of the education field: ministries, as well as non-governmental organizations, community leaders, families, and other government sectors.

For Maroba, whose work in Botswana involves successfully advocating for pregnant students to continue to attend school during pregnancy rather than be excluded for a year, mainstreaming gender equality in educational planning means ensuring that the curriculum has a fair representation of men and women. 

“It means making it as accessible so whether you are a girl or you are a boy, you have equal opportunity and equal treatment. It also means getting rid of subtle practices, the misconceptions, and myths that we carry in our society… Even at home girls will be with their mother in the kitchen cooking. So, when they get to school you find that girls are very insecure. They can't assert themselves. They tend to wait to be invited to speak even by the teacher. Gender mainstreaming is making sure that those are eliminated, so they can dream to be whatever they want to be, like anybody else,” said Maroba. 

Similarly in The Gambia steps have been taken to address gender issues at all levels with a gender focal point at every regional education office, said Tida Jatta, director for basic and secondary education programmes at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in The Gambia, and another participant of the English short course. 

Through an online learning platform and regular remote live sessions, participants exchanged and learned from each other’s experiences and consolidated skills that they can use to mainstream gender.

“What made me change my mindset was looking at the disparities, the inequalities between women and men when it comes to employment. When it comes to recruitment, those higher-level jobs, managerial jobs:  Women are not there,” said Zondera. “This will make us really dig deeper into our policies, dig deeper into our ministries. It showed me, using available data, that we are really far from parity. We are far from equality,” he said. 

Tida Jatta agrees the short course has strengthened her insight into what still needs to be tackled in The Gambia. “This course has equipped me a lot when it comes to planning. There are still some pockets in the Gambia that are resistant to education. How are we going to plan towards addressing those areas?” she said. 

“With the knowledge that I've been given, I'm going to work with the Director of Planning so that we're going to come up with strategies to plan better so that we are able to deal with disparities and inequalities that are happening at the moment,” Jatta added. 

Building a community of practice in Gender and Education

Participants who complete the short course are invited to join the Community of Practice in Gender and Education (CPGE). This space offers continuous reflection and exchange for gender-responsive educational practitioners from Africa. The CPGE activities also include residential workshops like that in November 2021 in Senegal for French speakers

GCI also offers tailor-made support to eight countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.