Over the last half-century, women and girls have made significant educational strides, even completing more schooling than men in developed countries. In developing countries, however, women and girls continue to experience barriers to finishing school, including safety concerns, social mores, and non-school-related responsibilities.
International evidence has shown the private and societal gains of investing in women’s education. The focus is now on the quality rather than the quantity of education, reducing gaps in skill proficiency and actual learning outcomes. Indeed, the schooling environment in developing countries has become increasingly a rich educational marketplace, with multiple schools and providers—both public and private—offering a varied menu of prices and quality.
While increasing the quality of education certainly must be one of the priorities in developing countries, evidence from several advanced economies where the gender gap in access to professional schools has closed, and no significant gender gaps in performance exist suggests that closing gender gaps in education may not be enough to close gender gaps in economic opportunity. In most countries, gender gaps among professionals exist and appear to be increasing with seniority.
What Can Be Done to Not Only Close the Gender Gap in Education but also in Economic Opportunity?
Providing high-quality education is not enough. More thought needs to go into how supply can really meet demand and what other interventions are required to complement education.
Recent evidence from Pakistan and elsewhere suggests that distance to the training center plays a huge role in the supply meeting the demand. Locating the training center or school in a woman’s village substantially increases take-up and completion rates.
Interventions that improve educational quality and access often arrive too late for individuals already outside the formal education system. Vocational training programs can overcome this barrier and have been shown to increase women’s wages and opportunities for paid employment in the formal sector. Training programs must take into account that women are more constrained by family obligations, distance, and illness than men, which negatively affects their participation and completion of vocational training programs. Combining vocational and life skills training for adolescent girls improves their income-generating opportunities and reduces early childbearing and desired fertility rates.
Educational interventions that go beyond skill training, like teaching girls how to effectively negotiate, can increase girls’ and women’s agency in terms of their health choices and education outcomes. Enabling women to make their own decisions about having children and contraceptive use—independently from their husbands—reduces unwanted pregnancies.
"Seeing is believing" is true when it comes to girls pursuing careers in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Though subtle bias against women persists in STEM academic environments, by observing and interacting with female experts in STEM fields, female students increase their interest in pursuing STEM careers. Other changes, like using pictures of women scientists in science textbooks, can also close the performance gap between female and male students.