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‘Country commitments to gender equality in education’ was commissioned by the Global Education Monitoring Report as background information to assist in drafting the 2017/8 GEM Gender Review. This paper supplements the Right to Education Initiative’s paper ‘Accountability from a human rights perspective: The incorporation and enforcement of the right to education in the domestic legal order’ submitted as a background report to the GEM’s forthcoming report ‘Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments’.
Today more girls than ever go to school. However, despite progress, girls and women continue to face gender-based challenges in accessing education, in education systems, and in the classroom, including but not limited to: child marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, wrongful and harmful gender stereotypes, inadequate and unsafe sanitation facilities, and poverty.
The international community has committed through legal and political frameworks to achieving gender equality in all spheres, including education. These frameworks include obligations to protect and secure women’s and girls’ right to education through the elimination of discriminatory barriers, whether they exist in law or practice, and to undertake positive measures to bring about equality.
This paper lays out the legal and political frameworks on gender equality in education to which states have committed and how they have committed.
In the second section, the content of states’ commitments to achieve gender equality in education is explained, including the normative content of relevant provisions found in international and regional human rights treaties and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The second section also includes a six-tier classification of each state according to what legal commitments to women’s and girls’ right to education. This classification is an ordinal scale with six tiers, with tier one capturing those states most legally committed and tier six capturing those states with no or minimal legal commitment.
Level of de jure commitment to gender equality in education is based on ratification of human rights treaties that guarantee the full right to education of women and girls on a non-discriminatory basis, which are the:
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
• UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education (CADE)
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
The classification prioritises ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) because it is lex specialis with regard to girls’ and women’s right to education. It contains the most substantive and specific provisions on the issue of gender equality in education, therefore legal commitment to it is considered to confer legal obligations that are not expressly provided for by ICESCR or CADE, or any other international human rights treaty. For the purposes of the classification, states that have not ratified CEDAW will not be considered to be amongst the most highly legally committed to gender equality in education.
Ratification of CEDAW is, therefore, categorised differently to that of ICESCR and CADE. Whereas ICESCR and CADE are measured dichotomously (has the state ratified ICESCR/CADE: yes or no?), CEDAW is measured by how legally committed states are to the right to education of women and girls. The categorisation below better captures the nuances that influence the level of commitment to gender equality in education:
• ratification without reservation(s) affecting the right to education or non-discrimination
• ratification without standing reservation(s) affecting the right to education or non-discrimination
• signatory (signals intent to be legally bound by the treaty; moral commitment)
Results show that nearly half of all states (87; 44%) are considered to have the highest level of de jure commitment to gender equality in education. Most states cluster around the two highest tiers (144; 73%). The highest three tiers capture 162 states (82%) which means that 82% of states have not entered reservations affecting gender equality in education to CEDAW. 35 states (18%) have entered reservations, and 8 (4%) states are not legally committed to CEDAW.
The final section of the paper details how states can be held accountable for failure to meet their legal commitments to gender equality in education, including what mechanisms are available at the international and regional levels and examples of how these mechanisms have been used to hold states accountable.