School supply distribution in the Philippines helps reduce gender inequality in education.

Gender inequality in education remains a significant challenge all over the world, and this issue is a central focus of Outreach International’s nonprofit work. While the gender gap has been closing in recent years, disparities persist, especially in low-income countries, remote regions, and areas around the world that are affected by conflict. This unequal treatment does more than infringe on the basic human rights of women and girls. It negatively affects entire societies, economies, and quality of life for everyone. Communities everywhere must identify this issue where it exists and enact programs to solve it in order to combat the increase in poverty rates that a lack of education creates.

This blog post will shed light on the current global gender gap in education and explain how Outreach International is working to empower communities to close it.

Current Challenges in Gender Education Equality

The Global Gender Gap Report for 2023, released by the World Economic Forum, states that of the 146 countries researched for their findings, the gender gap in education stands at 31.6%. This shows an increase in girls’ participation in education worldwide compared to 2022 of only 0.3%. And it’s important to realize that several high-income countries have made significant strides, skewing the overall numbers and taking some attention away from the fact that many countries have had their numbers fall.

Socio-Economic Factors

In low-income countries, particularly in remote regions, socio-economic factors play a significant role in perpetuating gender inequality in education. Issues such as poverty, socio-political instability, and lack of access to school disproportionately affect girls’ ability to receive an education. It’s common for families in regions facing hardship to prioritize boys’ education over girls’. While the primary school completion rate for girls worldwide is 90% compared to boys, that near-parity drops significantly after primary school. And in communities where people experience extreme poverty, not all boys have adequate access to education.

In Nepal, teachers stay after school to tutor student who need extra help.

In Nepal, teachers in an Outreach community volunteer after school to tutor students who need extra help.

Cultural Norms

Traditional gender roles in various societies also contribute to the gender gap in education. Many societies expect girls to prioritize household chores and caregiving over formal education. Also, there are many cultures that see education as less important for girls compared to boys, which limits opportunities and the independence and empowerment that come with future job prospects. Challenging these norms is a central focus in the effort to close the gender gap in education.

Insufficient Policy Support

The lack of robust education policies that specifically address the needs of girls is another significant barrier to solving this issue. When government resources are stretched in low-income countries, institutional programs often fail to adequately address the challenges girls face, including privacy, hygiene, and gender-specific health and wellness learning.

Regional Disparities

According to the World Economic Forum, when high-income countries are included in the global data, girls participate in primary school at 88% to boys and secondary school at 66%, and perform well in education systems. In fact, girls tend to outpace boys in standardized assessment tests. But when regions of low-income and/or conflict are analyzed on their own, the rate of girls to boys attending primary school drops to 31%. This massive disparity highlights the contrast in gender inequality in education between high and low-income regions and the differing realities girls face based on where they’re born.

In Haiti, school meal programs provide students with what may be their biggest meal of the day.

A student with a full belly is fueled and ready to learn.

In Haiti, Outreach helps sponsor school lunch programs to fuel physical and cognitive growth.

The COVID Pandemic Learning Crisis

The pandemic shutdown of 2020 increased the percentage of children in the world who are living in what’s known as Learning Poverty. The World Economic Forum defines this as someone who is not able to read and understand age-appropriate text. Before the pandemic, the percentage of children living in Learning Poverty globally was 57%. After one year of school disruption around the world, that number rose to 70% when measured in 2022.

The COVID crisis accelerated poverty, pushing an additional 70 million people around the world below the extreme poverty line. And, approximately one billion children lost a year of school. The latest data collected by the World Bank shows that as of the end of 2023, the world has not recouped those losses. And if a child cannot read with age-appropriate comprehension by age 10, they become statistically unlikely to ever become fluent readers. This has major repercussions on their future educational, professional, and economic prospects.

A handwashing station in Nicaragua minimizes illness spread and reduces student sick days.

In Nicaragua, an Outreach community installed a water tank, providing students with hygiene, reducing illness spread and minimizing sick days.

Experts expect the effects of the pandemic on education to be long-lasting. Analysis by organizations such as the World Bank has already revealed a worldwide decline in reading scores from 2016 to 2021 by more than one full school year. These drops represent more than just a cognitive struggle to those affected. It translates to an estimated 0.68% decline in global GDP growth. And looking into the future, this loss of learning could cost those children a combined future earnings total of $21 trillion (U.S.) over their lifetimes in today’s dollars. This is equivalent to a massive 17% loss of the current global GDP. This will increase deprivation for women more so than men due to the issue of gender inequality in education.

Urgent Action Needed

The pandemic recovery requires governments and NGOs alike to accelerate progress in their efforts to close the gender gap in education around the world. School programs must be empowered to implement ambitious learning initiatives to accelerate education effectiveness and get more children re-enrolled in school. Only by building better, more equitable and resilient school systems will societies recover these years of lost learning. And since these losses have impacted girls disproportionately, these rebuilt systems must address disparities to ensure that every child, regardless of gender, has adequate access to quality education and the opportunities that will arise as the result of it.

In the fight to end gender inequality in education, a community in Nepal provides both boys and girls with solar powered lamps so they can study at night in homes that lack electricity.

In Cambodia, students in an Outreach community receive solar-powered lamps so they can study at night in homes that lack electricity.

Innovative Approaches to ending Gender inequality in education

With these vast disparities, the idea of finding solutions may seem overwhelming. In fact, the people most affected by these poverty-related education issues can find it impossible to solve them alone. This is why Outreach International works to help communities find innovative strategies to improve education access and graduation rates for girls. Community-led initiatives such as mentorship and scholarship programs are effective. Also, school supply projects equip children with the tools they need to make the most of their education opportunities. Creating an environment within a school that is appropriate for girls includes private bathrooms, gender-specific health education, and access to feminine hygiene products. All these steps in combination make girls realize that their society knows they belong in school.

School supply programs in the Philippines give young students the tools they need to succeed in an academic environment.

In the Philippines, two Outreach community-led organizations worked to have school supplies donated for every child.

Advancing Gender Equality Through Education

Achieving gender equality in education is more than a moral imperative. Its benefits reach far beyond individual empowerment. It’s a critical factor in the contribution to economic growth. The more women contribute to the economy of their community, the more that economy grows, the more poverty is reduced, and the healthier and more stable that economy becomes. When we invest specifically in girls’ education, we all see dividends in the future prosperity of entire communities, regions, and indeed nations.

Education as a Driver of Development

Education is among the strongest methods of reducing poverty anywhere in the world. It also improves a community’s overall physical health, as well as increases socio-economic stability and decreases political unrest. For individuals, adequate education increases employment opportunities and earnings potential. Globally, a person experiences a 9% increase in hourly earnings for every additional year of school they complete. This drives long-term economic growth for entire societies, brings disparate social groups closer together, strengthens instituted programs, and spurs innovation in all areas including business and technology. There’s even evidence that communities with a higher average education participate in actions to combat climate change at higher rates.

In places like the Philippines, gender inequality in education extends to adult learning, where women gain technical skills they need to succeed.

In the Philippines, women’s education does not stop at secondary school. Continuous learning, adult education, and job training empower women and make life better for everyone.

Supporting Global Education Equality Initiatives

Outreach International supports community-led organizations so they can work to provide educational opportunities for girls who live in extreme, chronic poverty. And since every education issue is unique to a community, the organizations learn to tailor their solutions to their own unique issues. Many community groups develop projects that provide school supplies. Others provide school lunch programs. Some offer after-school tutoring. Outreach has even helped community-led organizations build entire schools from the ground up, where before there were none. And all the while, we help each community ensure that every opportunity for education, and the potential for a better life that follows it, is available to all children, boys and girls equally.

Closing the gender gap in education doesn't just empower girls, it empowers entire communities by tapping the potential of all.

How to Help

You can help close the gender gap in education by shopping at our online gift store, where several items represent donations to girls’ education, classroom supplies, school lunches, teacher salaries, and so much more.