This blog was originally posted on World Education Blog on 14 September 2017. Re-posted with permission.

Problems require solutions, which requires knowing who is responsible for fixing them, and having clear steps to address the issue. This is the meaning of accountability. A longstanding issue like gender inequality, therefore, is one for which accountability is clearly not yet doing its job. What are the bottlenecks, and what are the solutions? These were the questions the GEM Report, together with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, put to a roomful of people at last week’s UKFIET Conference in England. The event was the first consultation held by the team on the 2017/8 GEM Report Gender Review due out in March 2018.

The consultation began by asking who is responsible for gender equality in education. It ran through some of the principal actors, including:

  • Governments: responsible for the enforcement of the right to education and non-discrimination. They must consider the gender implications of how they allocate resources, gender equality in teacher pay, how school leadership appointments are made, gender-bias free curricula and textbooks; gender-sensitive teacher training programmes; and gender sensitive school facilities.
  • Schools: responsible for ensuring safe and inclusive learning environments free from school-related gender-based violence and gender-biased student treatment.
  • Teachers: responsible for using inclusive instructional practices and fair disciplinary approaches – and promoting active discussions on gender issues, as long as the curriculum, textbooks and their preparation allow them to do so.
  • Parents: responsible for ensuring there is no-discrimination in their choices over which children go to school, and for providing equal support and encouragement regardless of their child’s gender.
  • All of us as community members or professionals: responsible for monitoring governments, schools and teachers, to challenge stereotypes and ensure discrimination is not tolerated.

We asked those attending four key questions:

  1. What positive examples are there of accountability helping stamp out gender inequality in education? And what do these infer for policy recommendations?
  2. Which countries have made progress in mainstreaming gender based planning, including in data collection and resource allocation?
  3. How do gender-norms influence how accountability works?
  4. Are there gendered differences in accessing, understanding and confidence in using information on education?

Many at our consultation felt that there is no meaningful accountability to hold actors to account for gender equality at the moment. What there is remains very top-down and central level.

There is much room, therefore, to make sure we are all working to hold others to account for gender equality if real progress is to be realised. We can’t just leave it up to governments.

Participants emphasised the importance of social media and mass media for generating evidence at the community and district levels, and raising government awareness. They mentioned the need for researchers and think tanks to help with research and advocacy by evidence that shows girls and boys who have different learning opportunities. And civil society groups must continue carrying out gender budgeting reviews, which should be used more systematically, as should all civil society data.

Bottom-up accountability with school clubs and debates could also be better used, participants said. And teacher unions could do more to help bring in change in teacher behaviour to tackle stereotypes. A few more steps up the ladder are school leaders, who remain predominantly male. Re-addressing that gender balance was suggested as an important move as well.

Can accountability work against gender equality?

gender 1The 2017/8 Gender Review will also assess cases where, due to the way they have been designed, accountability systems being used in some contexts are pushing the goal of gender equality even further away.  For example, in situations where the community is required to help hold teachers or schools accountable, existing societal hierarchies between women and men can entrench divisions and diminish the voice of minorities, rather than providing a solution. In other contexts, accountability is working to assess only select outcomes, but not focussing on other vital components, such as teaching practices and how they encourage and pursue gender equality in school. Another example is found in the case of school choice policies, when parents choose the school they want for their child, and how much they’re prepared to pay for each. In some contexts, this can result in bolstering sex-specific choice which favour boys over girls.

What is clear from our initial research, and the consultation at UKFIET, is that moving beyond rhetoric and commitments to ensure gender equality is embedded in education policies and budgets will require strong and effective actions by all actors. Civil society, social movements, parents and teachers will continue to play a key role in addressing the remaining persistent obstacles to gender equality in education, and to measure and monitor the progress in achieving this goal together.

The consultation provided a forum to test some of these ideas with peers and gather additional evidence to feed into the 2017/8 Gender Review.  If you know of research that could help us as we explore the questions above, or programmes underway we should look into, please let us know in the comments section of our blog. We hope our Gender Review will provide a concrete roadmap for real action in tackling gender equality in education once and for all.