Improving women and girls’ access to education can unlock human potential on a transformational scale.

Sector Overview

To overcome mounting global challenges such as climate change, crisis and conflict, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all people must be supported to succeed in safe, equitable, and inclusive education systems; potential future leaders must not be denied their right to education on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Through education, children and youth gain the foundational knowledge, academic and social-emotional skills, and mindsets to advocate for themselves and others, challenge harmful gender norms, and create more just societies. All learners — especially girls — need powerful women role models who will advocate for their needs with high levels of influence. USAID supports women’s increased leadership in education systems at international, national, and individual institution levels.


Promote Equitable Gender Norms

Despite progress, learners and educators continue to face gender-based discrimination and oppression, especially adolescent girls, women and girls with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ individuals. Multiple aspects of a person’s identity, including SOGIESC, disability, race, and age, intersect with barriers to education, such as child, early, and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU), disproportionate responsibilities at home, gender-based violence, and discriminatory policies, to decrease that person’s likelihood of benefiting from education systems. USAID promotes education that seeks to transform harmful stereotypes, attitudes, norms, and practices.

Eliminate Gender Disparities

Gender inequality in education is multidimensional and varies across and within countries. Globally, boys are more likely to be enrolled in primary school than girls, but learning poverty rates (defined as the proportion of children unable to read and understand a simple text at ten years of age) are higher for boys than for girls in all regions and almost all countries of the world. In secondary schools, the gender gap disadvantages girls in some regions, and boys in others. Growing rates of secondary completion for girls have not necessarily led to an equivalent increase in workforce participation. In higher education, women are still only 35 percent of all students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and medical fields. Women are overrepresented in the global teaching staff at lower education levels, while their presence is markedly lower in higher education faculty, school management, and education policymaking.

Most data about gendered educational outcomes do not reflect the experiences of minority language users, persons with disabilities, or LGBTQI+ individuals in USAID’s partner countries. USAID understands that education programs are most effective when they account for gender-related challenges in order to meet the unique needs of learners and educators in each context.

Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Mitigate Its Harmful Effects

The relationships that learners form with peers and educators can be protective, particularly when there are high levels of violence or instability in the community or home. Safe learning environments provide essential services such as school feeding programs and service referrals for survivors of GBV. However, research shows a prevalence of three types of school-related GBV (SRGBV): 1) bullying and other forms of non-sexual intimidation; 2) corporal punishment; and 3) sexual violence, including harassment and abuse. Minimum estimates indicate that more than 115 million children and adolescents experience SRGBV every year. Data from 13 country-level studies showed the percent of learners who experienced SRGBV ranged from 8-45 percent of females and 9-54 percent of males. The same data showed females generally experienced higher rates of sexual violence than males, while males experienced higher rates of physical violence than females. Globally, 42 percent of LGBTQI+ learners report being "ridiculed, teased, insulted or threatened at school" because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, primarily by their peers, and 37 percent report feeling rarely or never safe at school. Of the many learners who experience violence in educational settings, few disclose their experiences, fewer seek services, and only a small proportion receive services. The considerable range in the prevalence and types of SRGBV between countries underscores the importance of context-specific data and evidence-based violence-prevention policies and programs.

Promising Approaches

  1. Address the cost of schooling.
  2. Provide food in school or as take-home rations.
  3. Provide accessible sanitation facilities and menstrual health and hygiene resources.
  4. Promote diverse women’s leadership in education.
  5. Promote an educator workforce that reflects the diversity of the population, and support educators to deliver pedagogy that seeks to transform inequitable gender norms.
  6. Collaborate with diverse communities to create and promote safe and inclusive in-person and distance-learning environments.
  7. Use preferred pronouns and other inclusive terminology and ensure that information related to self-identification, general health, sexual health, relationships, and family formation is inclusive of LGBTQI+ individuals.
  8. Supply gender-equitable educational materials that are accessible to all, including persons with disabilities.
  9. Work across sectors to ensure holistic support for adolescent girls, including efforts to counter CEFMU and provide evidence-based and age and developmentally appropriate reproductive health education for all.
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