In this blogpost, Elaine Unterhalter, Helen Longlands and Rosie Peppin Vaughan reflect upon the need to collect high-quality data on gender equality in and through education. Reporting from a recent UNESCO meeting, they argue that sustaining work on gender equality requires better data and careful reflection on what data are being collected and how they are used. The most significant challenge will be reflecting on thinking about the collection and analysis of data in a participatory way.
Data play a crucial role in documenting and supporting progress towards gender equality in and through education. Data can help transform our approaches to addressing inequalities, by indicating where change needs to happen. There has been much concern and discussion of missing gender data. A number of commentators also question whether available data document the relationships that are central to maintaining inequalities or transforming them. An innovative meeting at UNESCO in October took stock on these issues.
From one perspective, data about gender and education is neither missing nor inappropriately conceived. Every volume of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, published annually by UNESCO since 2002, includes tables on gender. The education section of the World Bank’s gender data portal contains 53 indicators which range across all phases and fields of education taking in enrolment, progression, learning outcomes, and the composite human capital index. The Population Council’s huge Evidence for Gender and Education Resource (EGER) database and map provides easily accessible data showing which kinds of education projects or programmes are operating in which areas in which countries, and research that underpins these. It allows users to dig down into statistics and build tables. For all of us who see information as an essential element in building understanding of gender equality, women’s rights and how to change education systems and practices in support of these goals, these are significant initiatives.
But this growing community of practice, working to make data more accessible, does not mean that the definition of gender equality in and through education is settled, or that the data we currently have are anywhere near enough to understand the complexity of the issues. Data that are available, and which have taken a long time to assemble and present in accessible form, tend to reflect what were seen as key issues ten or more years ago – girls out of school linked to early marriage, for example, or low levels of literacy and numeracy, or poverty and disability. These data do not reflect important issues that are being discussed at present, linked with gender identities and gender transformative processes in education. Gender transformative processes go further than noting the access or attainment issues in all phases of education, which are a major feature of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. Gender transformations in education are associated with relationships of redistribution or representation or reparation, or forms of co-ordination and connection. They seek to establish relationships in and through education that are genuinely empowering, changing unequal structures of power and the discourses and norms which frame gender inequalities. The data that could signal these gender transformative processes are in train, and the processes to make judgements about these data, are not yet firmly established.
Data showing progress towards SDG 4 remain somewhat elusive. At the Transforming Education Summit (TES) in September 2022, participants called for targeted actions, some linked to better data, to advance the achievement of SDG 4. They stressed the need to transform data systems and expand innovative and non-traditional data collection to better generate sex- and age-disaggregated data and enhance understanding of intersectionalities. The TES noted that countries need support to increase the availability and use of disaggregated data, gender assessments, and gender budgeting to inform planning, costing and implementation of gender-transformative education which reaches the most marginalized. Discussions arising from TES noted how the gender data ecosystem for SDG 4 still has many gaps, and new forms of collaboration in and beyond the education data community needed.
The Paris meeting on 23 October 2023 was co-hosted by UNESCO and the Accountability for Gender Equality in Education (AGEE) project. Discussions sought to look at both where the gaps around data and measurement are, and routes that are being taken to address them. This meeting brought together key initiatives and actors working with data to support gender equality in and through education: in addition to UNESCO and AGEE there were representatives from UN Women, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Girls Education Challenge (GEC), UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI), International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), SIGI (Social Institutions on Gender Index) , ALIGN (Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms), Education Cannot Wait (ECW), Education International, Save the Children and Equal Measures 2030. Participants discussed building collaborative networks on how to best support countries to collect high-quality data on gender equality in and through education, and how to best support governments to make informed decisions based on these data.
The many-faceted definitions of gender was a key thread, illuminating how discourses and the processes that shape them need constant review. A feature of the meeting was recognition that gender equality in and through education is not just a matter for the education sector but also requires discussion, knowledge sharing and collaboration within and across other sectors, including gender, health and social services. Data on education need to be read with data on other areas of social development. To facilitate this, the Global Platform for Gender Equality and Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment in and through Education, which presents opportunities for further international / global collaborations, was launched on 8th November.
At the Paris meeting the latest developments from the AGEE project were reported with an initial version of the AGEE cross-national dashboard for 90 countries. This includes indicators across the 6 core AGEE domains. Data from the dashboard show how countries can be grouped, with categories emerging that distinguish countries where there is gender parity in participation, but limited work on resources or values, and countries where there is considerable engagement with policy and resources for gender equality in education, but more limited levels of learning or other gender equitable outcomes. The cross-national dashboard thus appears a very generative process for identifying where gender transformative work needs further depth and better data. Work on the AGEE cross-national dashboard and a composite indicator will continue in 2023-24.
Sustaining work on gender equality in and through education requires better data, and careful reflection on what data are being collected and how they are used. While the AGEE dashboard and the other initiatives reported at the meeting have revealed data gaps, the most significant challenge will be reflecting on thinking about the collection and analysis of data in a participatory way. Participants at the Paris meeting reflected that ten years ago the ambition of assembling the data on gender inequalities in and through education was often ridiculed as too ambitious. There has been a persistent dedication in proving that view wrong, but there is much still to be done in attending to the data gaps, drawing out the implications of what the data show, and bridging between local, national and global assessments to give serious attention to the indicators for gender transformation in and through education.
About the Authors
Elaine Unterhalter FBA, Professor of Education and International Development, University College London (UCL) is Principal Investigator on the AGEE (Accountability for Gender Equality in Education) project.
Helen Longlands, Lecturer in Education and International Development at UCL is Programme Leader for the MA in Education, Gender and International Development, and Co-Investigtor on the AGEE project.
Rosie Peppin Vaughan, Lecturer in Education and International Development at UCL, coordinates the gender workstream in the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) and is Co- Investigator on the AGEE project.