Education and Gender Equality


Child-friendly education (for all)

Girls' education and gender equality

Early childhood development (ECD)

Education in emergencies


Education Think Pieces


Girls' education and gender equality

© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0361/Furrer
Several children embrace as they sing a song of friendship and love with their classmates at a school in Nairobi, Kenya.

For far too long, the right to education has been denied to many girls across the world. In Eastern and Southern Africa, poverty, poor access to school, lack of sanitary facilities and social norms such as child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, have all been preventing girls from realizing this basic right.

As a result of these and other factors, in countries such as Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Mozambique, the enrolment rate of girls in primary school is lower than that of boys, and in secondary and tertiary education the figure is even lower across the region as a whole.

This comes at a time, when girls’ education has proven to be one of the most cost-effective strategies to promote development and economic growth. Studies have shown that educated mothers tend to have healthier, better nourished babies, and that their own children are more likely to attend school; thus helping break the vicious cycle of poverty. Recognizing such impacts, UNICEF ensures that gender equality cuts across all its programmes, including education.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0569/Pirozzi
After her mother's death, Nokwanda Mchunu, 12, of South Africa, had to live with her unemployed aunt. In spite of poverty, she has never missed a class. “I want to do well at school,” she said. “My dream is to live a better life.”

UNICEF in action

To boost girls’ education, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a partnership of organizations dedicated to promoting girls’ education, was launched in 2000 by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  Its goal was to ensure that by 2015, all children are able to complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to free, quality education.

UNICEF is the lead agency and secretariat for UNGEI. Together with its partners, such as UNESCO, the World Bank, bilateral donors and NGOs, UNICEF works towards transcending barriers to girls’ education and narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education. The focus is on the countries and regions with the widest gender disparities in primary education – those places where simply being born female resigns so many children to a life of illiteracy and missed opportunities.

Committed to enhancing the evidence base, UNICEF is leading the way in research focusing on how different drivers of inequality interact to exclude girls and boys from school. Work has been carried out through the global Out-of-School Children’s Initiative (OOSCI), as well as collaborative research with UNESCO to understand factors contributing to gender inequalities.

Results for children

  • In 14 ESA countries, UNICEF supported gender audits to assess the needs of girls in school and identify barriers to education. The gender audits are critical in deepening the understanding of the lives of girls and influencing education policy and planning.

  • Under the UNGEI partnership, the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) and the Girls’ and Boys’ Education Movement (GBEM) were established in Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda. The movements mobilize communities to support girls’ school retention and completion. Training for GEM and GBEM members in ESA were hosted in Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda for a greater gender mainstreaming in education.

  • In collaboration with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), UNICEF provided technical and financial support to gender training for teachers in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Ethiopia.

  • The UNICEF-supported child-friendly education (CFE) framework promotes equality and equity in enrolment and achievement among girls and boys by eliminating gender stereotyping. Gender-sensitive curricula and textbooks, as well as separate latrines for girls and boys are key vehicles for enhancing gender equality in education. Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are institutionalizing the CFE model to improve girls’ and boys’ access to quality education.

  • In South Africa, UNICEF supports the government’s Techno Girl mentorship programme, which was launched in 2005 as part of GBEM. The programme helps girls make informed career choices, with an emphasis on science, technology and engineering. In 2011, 7500 girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in all nine provinces were involved in the programme.



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