Earlier this week, a panel at the Academy for Educational Development’s Center for Gender Equity on “Adolescent Girls and the Workforce” offered strong arguments for working towards gender equity jointly in education and the labor force worldwide. May Rihani, Director of AED’s Global Learning Group, opened the discussion by calling for secondary education to step up and become more relevant for all youth to pursue a diversity of fields in the workforce.
The UN defines gender parity as a combination of equitable ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary, and tertiary education levels of education, average shares of women in wage employment, and proportions of national government seats held by women. While two thirds of all countries theoretically achieved gender equity by 2005 (according to the UN Millennium Development Goals), girls still do not have equal access to primary and secondary education in some regions of the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia have the largest gender disparities in school enrollment. Furthermore, the disparity between educational equity and workforce equity remains vast. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 to 80 percent of young women are neither in schooling nor in the workforce. Of those that are in the workforce, two thirds work in vulnerable jobs including unpaid family employment or self-employment. These statistics are even more troubling given the current global economic crisis since hard-pressed households often cut costs by taking adolescents out of school and avoiding health check-ups.
Dr. Andrew Morrison of the World Bank recommended expansions of conditional cash transfer programs as one key to alleviating education and workforce inequities. Mexico’s Oportunidades conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, for example, pays poor mothers to send their children to school and get regular health check-ups. CCTs are spreading rapidly across the developing world, now existing in almost every South American country: Brazil (Bolsa Familia), Chile (Chile Solidario), and Panama (Red de Oportunidades) are just a few examples.
In regions where creating such large social safety nets are difficult to develop (or difficult to hold accountable given corrupt government systems), smaller initiatives like school feeding programs or in-school health clinics may suffice to dramatically improve children’s health and keep more kids in school as well as increase opportunities to reduce intergenerational replication of poverty.