Gender Matters – Achieving Equality in Education and Emergencies

Haiti, 2010

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0207/Noorani
Haiti, 2010.

22 June 2010 – Prioritising gender equality in educational systems is vital to addressing the needs and concerns of women, girls, boys and men alike. Programmes that integrate gender equality are also effectively undertaking issues of access to power and resources. Ignoring gender equality, particularly in times of crisis, can hinder a students’ ability to learn and engage, and thus negatively impact broader recovery efforts, not only within education systems, but also for entire communities.

Gender equality in education in emergencies seeks to:

  • Acknowledge that all girls and boys have a right to quality education, without discrimination.
  • Address gender-based barriers to accessing education at all levels.
  • Respect differences based on gender and to acknowledge gender, together with age, ethnicity, language, disability, status, religion, as a part of a learner’s identity.
  • Enable education structures, systems and methodologies to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of all girls and boys.
  • Close gaps on gender disparity in education as part of a wider strategy to advance gender equality in society.

What happens in emergencies?

Gender roles change dramatically in times of emergencies. Women, girls, boys and men respond differently to resist violence, survive and support their families. A gender analysis of education helps us to understand how gender roles have changed or are changing, so we can address the specific needs and concerns of female and male learners, teachers and other education personnel.

Getting girls and boys, young women and men, back into supportive educational activities as soon as possible after an emergency provides them with a routine, and a stable and protective environment. Without this, fear and intimidation can lead to poor concentration and attendance levels at school and an increase in drop-out rates. A code of conduct that addresses the school’s and individual teachers’ role in preventing sexual exploitation and harassment must be in place.

How does education help?

Access to a quality, relevant and participatory education provides girls and boys with knowledge and skills that can help them to contribute to the development of their community and society. Further, this can improve individual and community resilience to future crises.

An emergency response may offer a ‘window of opportunity’ or a chance to improve education provision and address previously ignored gender equality issues (e.g. a review of curriculum as part of an emergency response may identify gender bias which can then be rectified).

Education spaces should be designed to meet gender-specific needs for access and protection, for male and female learners and staff (e.g. separate latrines with internally lockable doors and washing facilities, ‘Purdah/privacy walls’).

Women and girls are deprived of equal access to education opportunities more often than men and boys, but we should still look out for the inequalities and barriers to education that boys and young men may be facing (e.g. boys may be pressured to take on adult roles providing for and protecting their families, which can affect education access and opportunities).

Girls and boys need positive female and male role models in their learning environment. The presence of female teachers can improve girls’ enrolment, retention and sense of safety. Ensuring the presence of positive male role models at early childhood development (ECD) and primary levels is also extremely important.

Girls and women are disproportionally affected by gender-based violence (GBV), in particular sexual violence and exploitation. Often girls and boys are at risk of GBV travelling to and from school, within the school system, and in the broader community. These risks must be addressed as part of strong prevention and protection interventions, which are key to creating a safe and enabling environment for all girls and boys to access and continue their education.

Some Common Misconceptions about Gender Equality Programming in Education in Emergencies:

  1. ‘It is too difficult to address gender equality issues in education during an emergency.’ Emergency responses are focused on saving lives and delivering supplies and in some cases response personnel may feel they are not equipped, mandated or motivated to integrate gender issues into their work. However, ignoring the different needs of women, girls, boys and men may impact their ability to protect themselves from danger and threats to their safety and, therefore, reduce their chances of survival.
  2. ‘Gender is only about girls’/women’s issues.’ Gender is often thought to relate only to girls and women, but it also about boys and men – their specific needs, concerns and capacities and their inter-relationships regarding access to resources. Analyzing discrimination experienced by boys and men, and girls and women, as well as the positive contributions each can make to improve gender equality, ensures more effective and safe education programmes.
  3. ‘Once a programme addresses issues such as participation and protection, it will automatically create equal opportunities and address the different needs of girls and boys, young women and young men equally.’ Without consistent analysis of the gendered barriers to education, as well as systems of accountability and measurement of performance, we cannot be sure that programmes meet everyone’s needs and concerns, and therefore measure their effectiveness.
  4. ‘Gender is too complicated, difficult and culturally sensitive to approach, especially during an emergency.’ Resistance within the affected community, within social and political structures, and even among national and international humanitarian workers, can strengthen the feeling that gender is too difficult and/or politicised to address. National and international staff may be reluctant to address gender equality and GBV (including issues such as sexual and domestic violence, early/forced marriage, etc) because they do not want to be seen as interfering, culturally insensitive or imposing different value systems. They may also not want to build resentment or even hostility within the local population. However, a good analysis of existing structures and culturally-sensitive engagement with individuals and communities can ensure that attitudes, behaviors and laws relating to gender equality in education support all women, girls, boys and men.
  5. ‘I checked the ‘Gender Box’ in the checklist so I have done my part.’ Key stakeholders, duty-bearers and decision-makers by personnel who do not understand or believe in working toward gender equality in education in emergencies may just be ‘going through the motions’ to satisfy an agency’s/organisation’s/donor’s conditions or checklist. Gender-equality education programming is more than just checking a box. Senior officials, agency heads, and managers must ensure that staff are not going through the motions, either for lack of motivation or lack of analytical skills.

For more information check out the gender page on the INEE website at and the gender webpage of the OneResponse website at

In addition, in the next few months, the INEE, together with the IASC Global Education Cluster and the IASC GenCap Project will publish a new Pocket Guide on Gender Equality in and through Education in Emergencies.

- Siobhàn Foran, GenCap Advisor with the Global Clusters

Related link: Ask the Gender Expert

Leave a Reply

One Response to “Gender Matters – Achieving Equality in Education and Emergencies”

  1. TaylaorAnn says:

    This is great.I’m a sutdent and I’m doing a research “If the world was a village of 100 people” right now. I was focusing on Education, and this actually helped me how people could solve this kind of situation like improving both genders of people could’ve all have equal education.



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