Education and Poverty: A Gender Analysis

Published on 1 January 2001

The linkages between education and poverty can be understood in two ways:

1) investment in education as a poverty reduction strategy which can enhance the skills and productivity among poor households; 2) poverty as a constraint to educational achievement both at the macro-level (poor countries generally have lower levels of enrolment) and the micro-level (children of poor households receive less education).

Females in developing countries typically receive less education than do males. Although it is generally true that countries with high GNP have greater educational equality for males and females, amongst poor countries there is considerable variation, both in overall levels of enrolment and in female/male enrolment ratios. Female disadvantage in enrolment is thus not simply a matter of overall development. Factors such as social and cultural attitudes, and policy priorities are clearly also significant.

Research into the constraints to girls? schooling explains the persistence of gender gaps and indicates how the combined effects of household poverty and gender reduce educational opportunity for girls. The opportunity costs of girls? schooling are most significant for poor households. Girls? labour is used to substitute for their mothers?, e.g. by caring for siblings. The loss of girls? labour during school hours thus has an impact on women?s ability to raise household income either through food production or wage labour.

Not only are the costs of schooling girls greater but the private returns (to the household) are often perceived to be less, because of wage differentials between educated women and men, because daughters are expected to leave the household upon marriage, or because tradition favours female seclusion, or women remaining within the home. Other constraints to girls? schooling include concerns about girls? safety both in school and journeying between home and school, especially at puberty, and worries about girls becoming sexually active outside of social sanction. For poorer households, these safety concerns may be increased because children from the poorest households are often furthest from schools, particularly at secondary level.

A gender perspective on poverty and education highlights several possible strategies to tackle female disadvantage. These include:

? reducing opportunity costs to girls? schooling, e.g. through childcare provision or investment in labour saving infrastructure, or flexible or non-formal educational provision; ? incentives and scholarships for girls? enrolment to reduce the direct costs of girls? schooling; ? educational initiatives outside of the schooling system, such as adult education and literacy programmes, for those who ?missed out?; ? improving the quality of education and tackling gender bias in the curriculum; ? and non-education sector policies to tackle discrimination, e.g. in labour and financial markets, which prevent women from realising the returns to educational investment.

Publication details

Oxaal, Z
1 85864 346 5