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close this bookAccess of Girls and Women to Scientific, Technical and Vocational Education in Africa (BREDA - UNESCO, 1999, 480 p.)
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View the documentChapter 1: Promotion of Women Through Equal Access to Education for the Sexes: A Few Landmark Decisions
View the documentChapter 2: Scientific, Technical and Vocational Training of Girls in Africa - A Synthesis of Country Surveys

Chapter 1: Promotion of Women Through Equal Access to Education for the Sexes: A Few Landmark Decisions

Augustin MARIRO*

* UNESCO - Dakar (BREDA)


Over the past few years, the UN has worked towards the promotion of women in every field of life. Diverse activities have been undertaken in that framework to implement the decisions made and recommendations formulated during various conferences, colloquia and summit meetings on women or on development in general.

In the framework of the activities undertaken by the United Nations System, UNESCO has for its part and in the scope of its competence, multiplied diverse initiatives aimed to improve the status of women and girls in the Member States.

Despite the efforts made by the United Nations agencies and the international and non-governmental organisations, however, one is obliged to admit that considerable work still remains to be done to eliminate the disparities between men and women in several areas of life in general, and in that of education in particular. There is still an enormous chasm separating the resolutions taken, the intentions expressed and the recommendations formulated from the actual situation.

It is worth recalling here some sources that have set standards and are the foundation of the actions of the United Nations System:

· The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 2, forbids “distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religious, political or other opinion,” for the enjoyment of the basic freedoms. Articles 22 to 27, which bear chiefly on economic, social and cultural rights, stress education for all.

· The World Plan of Action, prepared on the occasion of the International Women's Year (1975) and the United Nations Decade of Women (1975-1985) identify the national areas of intervention in favour of women: political participation, education and training, health and nutrition. The education of women is considered the very foundation of their effective participation in the life of their community.

· The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979) insists on legislation abolishing every kind of discrimination and emphasises equality of access to education for boys and girls, the freedom to choose from among the same study programmes, and non-discrimination in terms of employment and remuneration.

· The Nairobi Forward-looking Action Strategies for the Advancement of Women (1985), concerning equal opportunities offered to women, recommends “equal access to education and training and of efforts, to encourage more girls to study in areas generally selected by boys, and reciprocally, to implement a desegregation of curricula and efforts to ensure that girls do not drop out of school.

· The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (1992) evokes the vital role of women in the management of the environment and development, which implies adequate education and training in those areas. It is recommended in particular, that an awareness-raising campaign be conducted concerning equality between men and women, while resorting to education and both formal and informal training.

· The International Conference on Population and Development (1994) “recognises that education is one means of action to permit full participation in the development process and consequently recommends that special attention be accorded to the elimination of disparities in access to education to the detriment of girls.”

· The World Summit for Children (1990), after recalling the conclusions of the World Conference on Education, “insists on the necessity to bring an end to the major inequalities between boys and girls in every field of education.”

· The World Conference on Education (Jomtien, 1990): In passing the World Declaration on Education For All, it recommends that “the most urgent priority be granted to ensure equality of access and an improvement in quality for women and to remove any obstacle that might be a handicap to their participation, and in the field of education, to eliminate any gender-related stereotyping.”

· The 4th World Conference on Women (1995) stressed concrete measures to be taken with the aim to sensitise educators about the disparities between genders, and parents about the necessity to educate their daughters and diminish girls' retard in school attendance compared to boys.

· The International Conference on Education at its 42nd Session (1990), recommended that special measures be taken to ensure that parents become aware of the interest in providing an education for girls and to mobilise women's organisations to improve access to literacy for women.

· The 5th International Conference on Adult Education (1979) pledged to “find a solution to the marginalisation and unequal access to a quality education, of which girls and women continue to be victims at every level, and to make sure that all men and women receive the education they need to meet their basic needs and exercise their rights.”


Africa has not been absent from these international concerns about the advancement of women through education. Indeed, one remarks that during the various conferences and regional and sub-regional meetings, participants have always insisted on the importance of education for women as the basis of their expansion. Whether this concerns conferences between Ministers of Education and Economic Planning (MINEDAF) or other meetings, the promotion and participation of women in community development and their education as a basis for the efficacy of that participation, have often been addressed in recommendations and even in the action plans of these bodies.

· The Conferences of the Ministers of Education and Economic Planning in African Member States (MINEDAF). Although almost all of the MINEDAFs have stressed the importance of education for girls as a side point, it was MINEDAF VI (Dakar, 1991) which accentuated the need to grant priority to them as far as education is concerned, and to teach girls and women to read and write. MINEDAF VI pledged to lay policies for appropriate action plans and create a conducive environment to guarantee the safety and security of girls in schools, to prepare educational material and to work with the Forum of African Educators (FAWE-FEA) and other concerned associations to ensure that women and girls enrol in greater numbers in every area and at every level in the educational system, and that they stay in it and succeed in it.

· The Ouagadougou Declaration and Action Framework recommends in particular that special care be taken to ensure that in all schools, the staff be composed at least 50% of women: to measure the gap between girls and boys and to design and implement strategies aimed to correct that gap within set time limits; to encourage regional co-operation aimed to design textbooks free of any sexual stereotypes and giving a more positive image of the roles of girls and women in society and the working world; to reinforce science and mathematics education by getting support at the start of the programme from knowledge the child has acquired from his/her environment before entering school; to demystify the sciences by appealing to the child's everyday experiences to present concepts and reasoning in such a way that the programme content uses more practical applications and illustrations drawn from his/her everyday life.

· The Kampala Declaration and Action Framework (1996) insists on the following points:

- The adoption by all governments and other actors of positive discriminatory measures to guarantee the access of all girls and all women to vocational and technical training, and to ensure them an income-generating employment;

- that common training for both sexes be encouraged in co-ed schools for math and science courses;

- regarding the writers of textbooks, to. resort to those providing examples of women models in the scope of an awareness-raising policy encouraging equality between men and women.

· The OAU Conference of the African Ministers of Education (COMEDAF, 15-19 March, 1999) in its action programme, insists particularly on the fact that the improvement in the quality of education and vocational training should include:

- the promotion of science education;

- the utilisation of new information and communication technologies and innovations in pedagogical approaches and methods;

- setting-up mechanisms at the sub-regional and regional levels to promote the production and dissemination of school textbooks;

- encouraging the recruitment and training of educators specialised in the fields of science and technology; and

- the development of interfacing between training establishments and companies and other enterprises.

· The Nairobi Action Plan for Technical and Vocational Education in Africa recommends the elimination of stereotypes which tend to consider that purely technical disciplines are not appropriate for women and girls; to project as models, women who are famous because of their performances in the field of technology and successful women and businesswomen who, are earning a good salary and who are contributing to the well-being of society by using their skills in the area of technical and vocational training.


All of the surveys published in this work as well as the various studies made on school attendance of girls in Africa bring out the major issues which act as obstacles to reducing disparities between girls and boys in the field of education.

· The burden of culture and tradition: how to overcome the prejudices, stereotypes and habits which characterise relations between the sexes in African societies; how to convince parents that it is just as important to send their girls to school as it is for their boys?

· The school's role as a factor of change in the perception of differentiation between genders and sexes: how to render the school a place of change and not just a societal relay to transmit stereotypes and prejudices about genders and the sexes?

· Teachers often play the role of reinforcing the stereotypes instilled by families, especially in the distribution of awards and punishments. This differentiation in treatment is most evident in subjects such as mathematics and the science. This substantiates the need to train teachers who are conscientious and capable of promoting change.

· Parents who transmit stereotypes about the sexes by treating them differently are also a problem. In certain cultures, priority is given to boys to go to school, while the girls are confined to household chores. How to convince parents to change their attitudes concerning the roles of the sexes?

· Another inequality rarely discussed is the orientation of girls towards scientific, technical and vocational training. It is precisely in this area that the consequences of sexually related stereotypes are the most evident. The surveys show that girls are not encouraged like boys to go into these areas, and that those who do manage to orient themselves in that direction are viewed negatively by their peers, including in the academic settings. What can be done to reduce if not abolish the gaps between the sexes in this area? The authors of the surveys have attempted to reply to that question.


To address original inequalities: The general conclusion to be drawn from the survey reports which are the subject of this publication is that these inequalities although persistent, are not inevitable. Where public authorities, teachers associations and officials decided to take action, positive results were obtained. This is the case of science clinics for girls in Ghana and Nigeria, Olympiads and blocs scientifiques et technologiques in Senegal. Young girl's motivation to like maths and science should be strengthened right from primary schools. It is also at this level of education that prejudice and stereotypes should be eliminated, that participatory attitudes in science and technology should be encouraged in young girls and attractive curricula and education materials be produced. To this end, the teacher's role is essential if not crucial.