Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Gender Equality in Education in Emergencies

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Gender Equality in Education in Emergencies

Article excerpt

Major achievements have been made worldwide to ensure education rights for both girls and boys. When crisis or disaster erupt or people have to flee, however, these achievements are jeopardised. Statistical data on displaced people's access to education is difficult to obtain, and statistical information that is disaggregated by sex even more scarce. In a country like South Sudan, for example, which has suffered many years of war, violent conflict and displacements, it is estimated that 75% of girls are not enrolled in primary education.1 Emergency situations may change existing gender dynamics and affect boys and girls differently but - most often - conflict reinforces existing barriers to education which in turn tend to reinforce gender disparities. Evidence from Oxfam IBIS' education in emergencies programming, which is based on a framework for analysing and addressing barriers to gender equality in education, identifies several such barriers:

Gender stereotypes and the devaluing of girls' education: Men are traditionally supposed to be breadwinners, while women are expected to become mothers and wives and their education is therefore considered less important. Although progress has been made in terms of promoting gender equality in education, in a time of crisis or displacement the gains that have been made in a stable context can sometimes be lost: response efforts focus on other areas, meaning it is difficult to ensure education is prioritised. And when education is delivered in an emergency it is often hard to find the resources to continue specific efforts and initiatives to promote gender equality that have been implemented by States and non-governmental organisations.

Gender stereotypes and economic factors: Poor families generally tend to prioritise the education of boys, and in crisis situations they are even less likely to support girls' education. When families are displaced, both boys and girls may be forced to drop out or stay out of school to support themselves or their family by taking on jobs or engaging in prostitution, or parents may arrange marriages for girls at an early age. A recent study carried out in Nyal, South Sudan - located close to some of the most brutal fighting during the fiveyear conflict - shows that it now has some of the highest early marriage rates in the world, with an estimated 71% of girls married before the age of 18, significantly higher than the national pre-conflict average of 45%.3

Violence and safety: Both girls and boys, but in particular girls, are exposed to the risk of sexual harassment and violence in schools and on the way to school, especially in crisis situations. This risk is greatly increased in a situation of conflict, both for those in school and for the considerable number of children who are left without access to education. For example, in Nyal most community members interviewed felt that women and girls faced serious risks of sexual violence. They also felt that these risks had increased as a result of the crisis, to the extent that women and girls could not go out alone or go to school without risk.

Promoting gender equality

Although approaches to ensuring gender equality in emergency education are essentially the same as in a stable context, advocacy efforts are needed to ensure that all actors involved in emergency settings incorporate gender responsiveness into their education programming, and that authorities and donors provide the necessary funding. Interventions must be based on an initial gender analysis of how conditions for male and female children and youth are affected by the crisis and on identification of the specific risks they are exposed to and any barriers to their education and safety. …

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