Gender disparity in education is a prevalent issue in South Asia that is linked to pervasive socio-cultural gender biases in the region. At the primary level, 5.9 million girls are out of school compared to 5.5 million boys. The biggest factor keeping girls out of school is gender discrimination coupled with caste, class, religious and ethnic divisions that pervade the region. Moreover, the special needs of girls call for special measures like hygiene and sanitation facilities.
Girls from the poorest families will, most likely, never set foot in a classroom. Of the region’s out-of-school girls, 81 per cent are unlikely to ever start school, compared to 42 per cent of out-of-school boys. For a girl child, enrollment in school also reduces the chances of an early marriage. Evidence suggests that marriage before the age of 15 or 18 is strongly associated with the level of a child’s education. The higher the level of education, the less likely a child will marry early. Currently, almost half (45 per cent) of girls in South Asia marry before their 18th birthday.
There is an emerging trends of higher drop-outs and non-enrolment among boys in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives while acute challenges persist for girls to complete the full cycle of primary education in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the lower secondary level, 11.8 million boys in South Asia are out-of-school compared to 8.9 million girls.
Where there is gender parity in education, for example in Sri Lanka, this has not translated into improved employment outcomes for young women as compared to young men.