Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Gender Inequality and School Dropout at the Secondary Level

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Gender Inequality and School Dropout at the Secondary Level

Article excerpt

In Mexico, efforts have been made to guarantee universal basic education. However, social inequities such as gender discrimination persist, limiting access to schools and retention, affecting the development and social future of men and women, although differently. The gender roles, stereotypes, discrimination, and violence that are present in the family, in future expectations, and in the early incorporation of adolescents into the workforce are factors that contribute to school dropout at the secondary level.

Introduction

Although it is true that almost all countries in Latin America have made efforts to guarantee their children universal access to education, and general statistics point to a reduction of inequality between boys and girls in access to basic education,1 it is also true that different kinds of inequality are concealed at this level of education, among them gender inequality, hindering school access and retention among adolescents, although this phenomenon affects women differently from men.

An example of how inequality in access and retention in basic education persist in Mexico can be found by examining the level of secondary education in the state of Guanajuato, in central Mexico, where we conducted the investigation that constitutes the subject of this article.

In recent years the state of Guanajuato has succeeded in broadening attendance in secondary education. In 1990, only 67.1 percent of the state's adolescents ages 13 to 15 attended school; by 2002 the percentage had increased to 79.0 percent. Considerable efforts were made to increase enrollment rates in this age group, but they cannot conceal the fact that slightly more than 20 percent of the state's population in the age group appropriate for secondary education is not in school, based on figures published by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Public Education)(SEP, Sistesep v5.0).

On the other hand, Guanajuato is also among the states that offer the most limited opportunities for students to stay in school and finish secondary education. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía (National Institute of Geography and Statistics) (INEGI), in 2000 Guanajuato was the state with the seventh highest dropout rate2 nationwide; in 2002, it had risen to fourth place, and by 2005 it fell back to tenth.

In general, in all states in Mexico the proportion of males who drop out of secondary school is higher than for women. Yet Guanajuato stands out for having one of the country's highest dropout rates among girls. In the year 2000 it had the ninth highest female desertion rate for girls; by 2002, the state had risen to second place nationwide.3

In this context, the Instituto de la Mujer Guanajuatense (Guanajuato Women's Institute) (IMUG) requested that Universidad Iberoamericana León (UIA León) conduct an exploratory investigation to identify, from a gender perspective, academic and extra-academic factors associated with secondary school abandonment in the state of Guanajuato. This study was conducted by a team of UIA Leon researchers from November 2005 through July 2006, with funding and support from the IMUG.4

The questions that guided this investigation were:

* What elements shape the perspective of different school agents on the phenomenon of school dropout?

* What responsibility in the emergence and growth of this problem is attributed to schools, families, social context, and students?

* What elements are relevant, from a gender perspective, to the factors associated with school dropout?

The information gathered was analyzed from a gender perspective, using concepts basic to that perspective: roles, attributes, stereotypes, gender condition and destiny, discrimination, sexism, and gender violence. By using the gender perspective we sought to overcome the traditional, and at times unquestioned, equation that establishes poverty - economic need, unemployment, lack of resources - as the primary cause of academic failure and school abandonment. …

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