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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 9: Gender and Education: A Review of Issues for Social Policy

16 Aug 2002

  • Author(s): Ramya Subrahmanian


The past decade has seen a marked increase in the importance given to providing education. This paper reviews key issues on achieving gender equity in education. It examines contradictions and tensions in donor discourse and policy efforts, and points out some of the disjunctures between policy assumptions and the complexities of household decision making in different contexts.

Investing in education is seen as one of the fundamental ways in which nation states and their citizens can move toward long-term development goals and improve standards of living. Women’s education in particular is seen as providing the key to securing intergenerational knowledge transfer, and providing the substance of long-term gender equality and social change.

Yet the author argues that analysis of how advances in female education can be achieved requires sophisticated conceptual frameworks and tools, which unpack the intersections and interlinkages between social and economic aspects of exclusion.

Significant gains have been made in women’s education as a result of global advocacy and donor pressure. However, these gains are fragile and vulnerable to changes in economic and social environments.

Responding to diverse and complex forms of exclusion remains a challenge, and there has been a wide range of interventions targeted at improving female education. According to the author, however, these have been aimed largely at providing incentives to promote girls’ education in terms of the supply of education, and have focused less on creating enabling environments at local levels for women and girls to develop voice and articulate their choices and priorities, without risking social censure.

The author outlines some lessons from innovative programmes in South Asia that have worked with both adult women and girls to promote female education. Such collective forms of support help to address the risks faced by women who transgress social norms that have traditionally excluded them from education.

Ramya Subrahmanian is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

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