South Africa has made great strides towards achieving gender equality in education. According to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report, gender parity on all education indicators has been achieved. In terms of access to primary education, gender gaps on educational accessibility are closed. Proportionally more females are enrolled in secondary and tertiary level education than males. Females are also more likely to have higher levels of educational attainment than males.
This progress towards gender equality has contributed to poverty reduction in various ways:
- Increased levels of education have empowered females as they get equipped with the self-confidence, knowledge and skills to participate fully in their communities.
- Education of girls has resulted in higher family incomes and increased productivity.
- Health benefits of education with an impact on poverty reduction include delayed marriages, reduced fertility rates and improved maternal and child health.
Despite the achievements, the latest Gender Series report on Education (2004-2014) from Statistics SA reveals many remaining challenges:
- There are large gaps in subject preferences and performance, which often result in varying social and economic gender inequalities. For example, there is a significant gap in South Africa in favour of males qualified in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, resulting in male dominance in STEM-related occupations such as engineers and architects. More females are enrolled for Business and Commerce, Education and Other Humanities study fields. Education has the highest gender disparities, followed by Other Humanities (3/1 and 1,77/1 ratios respectively). Male-dominated professions are often those that command higher pay. Gender prejudice within the education system about maths and science abilities of females remain widespread.
- Males are more likely than females to enrol in Masters and Doctorate studies. Females enrol more frequently in lower tertiary qualifications.
- Employment absorption rates for females are significantly lower than for males, leaving them more at risk of poverty despite their education levels. Moreover, South African women remain disadvantaged in terms of pay, promotion, job stability and status.
- There are persistent gender inequalities in performing unpaid care or house work. Women spend more time on unpaid work, having a negative impact on their careers in the labour market, impacting their work status and pay, regardless of levels of education obtained.
- Boys’ performance in literacy is significantly lower than that of girls. Boys are also more likely to leave school early. Some of the negative social impacts associated with boys dropping out of school include crime and gender-based violence. This confirms the need for a growing focus within the gender rights movement on the construction of masculinity.
- Girls are more likely to stay at home due to family commitments such as child minding, which seems to have a bigger impact on girls living in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. Pregnancy and marriage also act as social gender-specific obstacles that hinder access to education for girls, particularly those from rural areas.
The most fundamental impact of education and gender equality on poverty reduction may lie in its impact on slowly changing norms in a society:
“In particular, the education of boys and girls—beyond its role in building human capital—is crucial in shaping norms. In multiple discussions, adolescent boys and girls described how education exposed them to new ideas and knowledge, enlarging their capacity to analyse and encouraging critical scrutiny of established gender relations and the status quo. These discussions reaffirmed what is already known about the intergenerational transfer and reproduction of norms within households. Education fosters learning away from the household environment where gender roles are played out in every interaction and action. The research team realised the importance of ensuring that school curricula offer gender-neutral learning opportunities.” (World Bank, 2012)
These results confirm some of the findings from the World Bank Report which I wrote about earlier.
“One of the more consistent findings across the 97 research sites is the universality and resilience of the norms that underpin gender roles. In every research location, women and men of all generations identified the dominance of women’s domestic role and men’s bread winning role as absolutely core to female and male identities. Some of the focus groups gave evidence of gender norms changing, albeit slowly and incrementally, with new economic opportunity, markets, and urbanization.”
This blog post is a contribution to the IIEP Course “Monitoring and Evaluating Gender Equality in Education’, edition 2016.
Taylor, S. & Spaull, N. 2015. Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000, International Journal of Educational Development, 41, 47-59.
Statistics SA, 2015, Gender Series Volume II, Education, Report No. 03-10-12 (2004–2014)
World Bank, 2012, On Norms and Agency Conversations about Gender Equality with Women and Men in 20 Countries (link)