24 December 2006

"The State of the World's Children 2007" by UNICEF: Gender disparity in primary and secondary school

Cover of The State of the World's Children 2007 by UNICEFOn 11 December 2006, UNICEF released the 2007 edition of its annual publication The State of the World's Children. This year's report, with the title Women and children: The double dividend of gender equality, looks at the status of women today and discusses how gender equality can help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The report argues that gender equality produces a double dividend because it benefits both women and children. Healthy, educated and empowered women have healthy, educated and confident children. Through gender equality women can not only live full and productive lives, they can also improve the lives of their children, their families, and the society they are part of.

The State of the World's Children contains detailed statistical tables with data on health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, education, demographics, economy, women, and child protection for each country. In the area of education, the report lists data for the following indicators:
  • Literacy
  • Primary school enrollment and attendance
  • Secondary school enrollment and attendance
  • Survival rate to grade 5
Data on primary and secondary school enrollment shows that gender disparity continues to exist in most regions of the world. The graph below compares female and male enrollment rates by expressing the female gross enrollment rate (GER) as a percentage of the male GER. The primary school GER is calculated as follows:
  • Primary school gross enrollment rate (GER) = Number of children enrolled in primary school / Number of children of official primary school age
By definition, the GER can exceed 100 percent. This can be the case in countries where many children enter school late or where many children repeat a grade. However, the GER is frequently used to assess a country's education system because it measures the participation of all children, not only those of official primary or secondary school age (see primary school gross and net enrollment). The GER ratio is calculated as follows:
  • Female GER as a percent of male GER = 100 * (Female GER / Male GER)
A value of 100 percent means that the enrollment rates of girls and boys are at the same level and that gender parity has been reached. If the ratio is below 100 percent, fewer girls than boys are in school. If the ratio is above 100 percent, more girls than boys are in school. The ratio of female to male enrollment rates is also known as the gender parity index.

Note that the reported values contain no information about the absolute level of school enrollment. It is possible to have gender parity at very low enrollment levels. Take a country where 50 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls attend primary school. Although the country would be far from the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, there would be gender parity in primary school. For data on absolute enrollment levels refer to an earlier post on primary school enrollment in 2004, with the most recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Primary and secondary school gross enrollment ratios: female GER as a percent of male GER, 2000-2005
Bar graph with female gross enrolment ratios as a percentage of male gross enrolment ratios, 2000-2005
Data source: UNICEF. 2006. The state of the world's children 2007: Women and children - The double dividend of gender equality. New York: UNICEF. Table 8, page 133.

According to the data reported by UNICEF, only two regions have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary school: East Asia and the Pacific, and the industrialized countries. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are close to gender parity, with female enrollment rates at 95 to 97 percent of male enrollment rates. Latin America and the Caribbean are close to gender parity in primary school but in secondary school, the female GER far exceeds the male GER (gender parity index 108 percent), which means that more girls than boys continue their education past primary school.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the female GER is at 93 percent of the male GER in primary school and at 90 percent in secondary school. In the three remaining regions, there is a larger drop in the gender parity index from primary to secondary school. In Eastern and Southern Africa, almost as many girls as boys are enrolled in primary school (gender parity index 94 percent) but at the secondary level of education, the female GER is only 85 percent of the male GER. In South Asia, the gender parity index is 91 percent in primary school and 83 percent in secondary school.

In West and Central Africa, girls are furthest behind boys in terms of school enrollment. The gender parity index is 84 percent in primary school and 70 percent in secondary school. In addition, total enrollment rates are lower than in any other region of the world (see primary school enrollment in 2004 and primary school enrollment in 2002/03). Compared to boys and compared to girls in other region, girls from West and Central Africa are least likely to reap the benefits of a formal school education.

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Friedrich Huebler, 24 December 2006, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2006/12/state-of-worlds-children-2007-by-unicef.html

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