Gender equality in primary and secondary education

We are committed to ensuring gender equality in and through education, for every girl and boy in South Asia.

UNICEF/UN063211/Altaf Ahmad


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.


UNICEF is deeply committed to creating a world in which all children, regardless of their gender, socioeconomic background or circumstances, have access to free, compulsory and quality education. UNICEF’s mandate to serve the most marginalized populations prompts it to focus special attention on girls, the largest group excluded from education.

In South Asia, UNICEF works to strengthen country level partnerships to advance gender equality in education. We collaborate with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) Secretariat to provide technical support and knowledge management to implement programmes on girls’ education and gender equality at the country level. We support our country offices in gender responsive sector planning and strengthen national partnerships for girls’ education, among others. We also help country offices on adolescent education, including alternative learning pathways and school to work transition. 


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