Members' Research Service By / March 6, 2015

Education and training of women

Written by Ulla Jurviste Education and training are crucial for economic growth and social advancement, the key objective being alignment…

© sbego / Fotolia
Written by Ulla Jurviste

Education and training are crucial for economic growth and social advancement, the key objective being alignment of skills with labour market needs. On a personal level, men’s and women’s education builds a basis to get a profession, find a job, earn a living and thus acquire economic independence. In its Europe 2020 strategy the EU sets targets, including to bring the number of early school-leavers down to below 10% and increase the share of graduates from tertiary education to at least 40% by 2020. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, Europe needs a well-skilled workforce to compete in terms of productivity, quality, and innovation. Recent evidence suggests that 20% of the EU working age population has low literacy and numeracy skills . This means the gap is growing between the skills acquired and the demands of the labour market. This gap contributes to unemployment and limits growth. Good education and training promotes equity, social inclusion and cohesion.

Education and training of women
© sbego / Fotolia

Globally, education patterns are changing. Within formal education systems, from the primary to the tertiary levels, opportunities are expanding, literacy levels are improving and enrolment is rising. But are these changes advancing the goal of gender parity and equality in education across regions and countries? Data indicate that improvement of gender parity at the primary school level continues, yet the gap between boys and girls remains wide , especially at the tertiary level.

The subject of women and education appears in several international goals. Millennium Development Goals , in particular MDG3 , promote gender equality and empowering women. Several objectives of the Beijing Platform concern training and education, especially the goal Education and Training of Women . As stated in the Beijing Platform , education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of gender equality, development and peace. Both boys and girls benefit from equal access to and attainment of educational qualifications. For women literacy is an important key to improving health, nutrition and participation in decision-making. Investing in education and training for girls and women is generally considered to be one of the best means of achieving sustainable development and economic growth.

Currently, EP FEMM Committee is preparing a Report Empowering girls through education in the EU ( 2014/2250(INI) , Rapporteur MEP Liliana Rodriguez).

Overviews and reports

Empowering Women and Girls Through Education – A Compilation of Supporting Analyses / EP, DG IPOL, DG EXPO Policy Departments; February 2015
This leaflet provides extracts from analyses and documents on the issues of empowerment of women and girls through education.

Education and training site of the European Commission.

Education and Training Monitor 2014 / EC, DG Education and Culture, October 2014 (88 p.)
The Monitor assesses the evolution of education and training systems across Europe on the basis of targets set at the European level, as well as other indicators, studies and reports. Among other issues, it presents learning outcomes of education as measured by qualifications and competences, including gender differences. The gender related patterns are presented under many issues of the monitor.

Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures / EC; Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA); EURYDICE; Cedefop, 2014 (232 p.)
This report looks at the subject of early leaving from education and training (ELET) from different angles, providing an overview of some of the main issues involved. It highlights the high costs for society of students leaving education and training early as well as the consequences for the individual. A higher level of education, on the other hand, can lead to a series of positive outcomes for the individual as well as society related to employment, higher salaries, better health, less crime, higher social cohesion, lower public and social costs and higher productivity and growth.

Adult Education and Training in Europe: Widening Access to Learning Opportunities / EC; EACEA; EURYDICE, 2015 (164 p.)
This Eurydice report provides insight into the field of adult education and training in Europe and support decision-making at policy level. While promoting an integrated approach to lifelong learning, the report emphasises policies and measures to ensure sufficient access to learning opportunities for adults whose skills and qualifications do not fully correspond to current labour market and societal requirements. In doing so, the report takes a broad perspective, considering and exploring a range of interlinked areas.

Assuring Quality in Education: Policies and Approaches to School Evaluation in Europe / EC; EACEA; EURYDICE, 2015 (208 p.)
This report offers a country-specific and comparative review of the structures, aims, and implementation modalities of evaluation of schools across Europe, in order to promote the sharing of knowledge and approaches for quality assurance in European education systems.

The International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS): Main findings and implications for education policies in Europe / EC, 2014 (26 p.)
This study, carried out by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), is an important new contribution to the knowledge base on digital competences and the integration of technology in teaching and learning. ICILS is the first ever internationally comparable study assessing students’ computer and information literacy. 60 000 eight graders in more than 3300 schools from 21 education systems, including 9 EU countries, were surveyed and assessed.

Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators / OECD, January 2015 (570 p.)
This publication presents key indicators in education and skills. It has a web-based research tool Education GPS , which makes the evidence easily accessible. The section Gender differences in education presents gender-segregated data. (See also the indicators for 2013 and 2012 ).

OECD’s ‘ Gender equality in education ‘ site – presents issues , data and indicators on Gender Equality in Education.

OECD Gender Initiative data browser– allows to explore and assess key gender outcomes in education, employment and entrepreneurship among OECD countries and enhanced engagement partners.

Gender Equality in OECD countries in the Pacific Rim and other APEC countries / OECD, 2012
This report focuses on OECD countries in the Pacific Rim and brings in cross-nationally comparable data for other APEC countries. Chapters 1 (Education) and 2 (Employment) build on existing OECD work in these two areas. Chapter 3 summarises some key findings on Entrepreneurship that can be obtained from OECD analyses and presents a framework for gender-sensitive cross-national data collection in this area. ( Brief ).

On the site of PISA results, overviews, in-depth reports and methodology you can access several recent PISA products, like PISA 2012 Assessment and Analytical Framework Mathematics, Reading, Science, Problem Solving and Financial Literacy (2012), as well as publications like Not a math person? (2012); Are Boys and Girls Ready for the Digital Age? (2012); What Kinds of Careers do Boys and Girls Expect for Themselves? (2012).

The UN human rights report points to ‘increasing regularity’ of attacks on girls seeking education.
A new United Nations human rights report seeking to analyse the problem of attacks against girls trying to access education found that schools in at least 70 different countries were attacked in the five years between 2009 and 2014, with many attacks specifically targeting girls, parents and teachers advocating gender equality in education. See also the Background paper on attacks against girls seeking to access education, which will inform the Human Rights Council panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, to be held in June 2015 (HRC res. 27/6).

UNGEI – the site of UN Girls’ Education Initiative, which works to improve the quality and availability of girls’ education in support of the gender-related Education for All goals, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 2) to achieve universal primary education, and MDG 3 to promote gender equality and empower women.

UNESCO eAtlas of Gender Equality in Education
With over 120 maps, charts and tables, the UNESCO World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education enables the educational pathways of girls and boys to be visualised in terms of access, participation and progression from pre-primary to tertiary education. The Atlas features a wide range of sex-disaggregated data and gender indicators from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. It also illustrates the extent to which gender disparities in education have changed since 1970 and are shaped by factors such as national wealth, geographic location, investment in education and fields of study. (See also: Gender-sensitive education statistics and indicators: a practical guide )

Global Gender Gap Report 2014 / World Economic Forum, 2014. See especially the graph on Educational Attainment under Gender Gap Pillar.

Report of the Conference “Combating Gender Stereotypes in and through Education” 9-10 October 2014 / Council of Europe, January 2015

Compilation of good practices to promote an education free from gender stereotypes and identifying ways to implement the measures which are included in the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on gender mainstreaming in education / CoE, January 2015
This compilation of good practices provides examples of activities implemented in Council of Europe member states to promote an education free from gender stereotypes and identify new ways to implement the measures comprised in the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on Gender Mainstreaming in Education. The presented initiatives include among others campaigns to inform and motivate girls and women to choose non stereotypical careers, gender equality training programmes for teachers and financial assistance provided to families to support girls’ school attendance.


Girls’ education and gender equality : Education Rigorous / Elaine Unterhalter et al. ; June, 2014 (112 p.)
The central research question that the report investigates concerns the kind of interventions that research evidence suggests can lead to an expansion and improvement in girls’ education. It also considers evidence on the relationship between an expansion and improvement in girls’ education and a deepening of gender equality.

The MDGs, girls’ education and gender equality / Expert paper by Elaine Unterhalter, Institute of Education, University of London, Expert Group Meeting: Structural and policy constraints in achieving the MDGs for women and girls; UN Women; ECLAC, 21-24 October 2013

Sex differences in academic achievement are not related to political, economic, or social equality / Gijsbert Stoet; David C. Geary; Intelligence, Vol. 48 (pp. 137–151), 2015
This recent study shows that sex differences in educational achievement are not reliably linked to gender equality; correlations between achievement and gender equality are inconsistent over time; girls’ overall educational achievement is better than boys’ in 70% of studied countries and economic regions. (See also an article from the University of Glasgow news, January 2015)

Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe / EC; EACEA, EURYDICE; 2010 (144 p.)
This study examines to what extent and in what ways gender inequality in educational attainment is an issue of concern in European countries. Although the situation has changed in the last decades regarding participation rates in education, gender differences persist in both attainment and choice of courses of study. The study therefore examines whether such disparities have led to policy initiatives such as proposals for changes in laws and other regulations relating to education, national surveys, projects or any other kind of official measures focusing on gender. The study also attempts to provide a mapping of the policies and strategies in place across Europe to tackle gender inequalities in education systems today.

Who rises to the top? / Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow; Psychological Science, Vol. 24, No 5 (pp. 648–659), 2013
320 young people aged up to 13 are shown to have profound mathematical or verbal reasoning abilities (top 1 in 10,000). The study observes their accomplishments by age 38, in combination with specific details about their occupational responsibilities, and their leadership positions in career.

Sex Differences in Mathematics and Reading Achievement Are Inversely Related: Within- and Across-Nation Assessment of 10 Years of PISA Data / Gijsbert Stoet, David C. Geary; PLoS ONE 8, 2013
This study analysed one decade of data collected by the PISA Programme, including the mathematics and reading performance of nearly 1.5 million 15-year-olds in 75 countries. Across countries, boys scored higher than girls in mathematics, but lower than girls in reading. There was considerable variation in the extent of the sex differences between nations. Further, sex differences in mathematics were inversely correlated with sex differences in reading. The authors did not find a sex difference in mathematics among the lowest performing students, but this is where the sex difference in reading was largest. In contrast, the sex difference in mathematics was largest among the higher performing students, and this is where the sex difference in reading was smallest.

Can Stereotype Threat Explain the Gender Gap in Mathematics Performance and Achievement? / Gijsbert Stoet (University of Leeds, UK), David C. Geary (University of Missouri); Review of General Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2012 (pp. 93–102),
Men and women score similarly in most areas of mathematics, but a gap favouring men is consistently found at the high end of performance. A meta-analysis of these effects confirmed that only the group of studies with adjusted mathematics scores displayed the stereotype threat effect.

Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis / Daniel Voyer and Susan D. Voyer (University of New Brunswick); Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 140, 2014 (pp. 1174–1204)
A female advantage in school marks is a common finding in education research, and it extends to most course subjects (e.g., language, math, science), unlike what is found on achievement tests. However, questions remain concerning the quantification of these gender differences and the identification of relevant moderator variables.

Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics / Ming-Te Wang, Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Sarah Kenny; Psychological Science, No. 18, March 2013 (pp. 770–775)
The pattern of gender differences in math and verbal ability may result in females having a wider choice of careers, in both science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and non-STEM fields, compared with males. The current study tested whether 1,490 individuals with high math and high verbal ability in 12th grade were more or less likely to choose STEM occupations than those with high math and moderate verbal ability. Results revealed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than were individuals who had high math skills but moderate verbal skills. One notable finding was that the group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males.

Stakeholders’ views


European Parliament

REPORTon educational and occupational mobility of women in the EU (2013/2009(INI)) Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality; Rapporteur: Licia Ronzulli

Report (2012/2116(INI)) Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU , Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality; Rapporteur: Kartika Tamara Liotard

Council conclusions of 12 May 2009 on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training ( ET 2020 )

Resolution of 2007 P6_TA(2007)0021 Discrimination against young women and girls in the field of education

European Commission

Strategy for Gender Equality 2010-2015
The Strategy states (Chapter 2, p. 18) that there is a gap between women’s educational attainment and professional development, thus special attention should be paid to the transition between education and the labour market. The causes of the pay gap also derive from segregation in the labour market as women and men still tend to work in different sectors/jobs. On the one hand, women and men are often over-represented in certain sectors, with ‘female’ jobs (mostly in health care, education and public administration) being in general less valued than typically male professions. On the other hand, within the same sector or company the jobs done by women tend to be of lower value and less well paid.

EU 2020
The EU has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020. Gender equality and education are two of Europe’s fundamental rights and are amongst the EU 2020 priorities. For society, educational opportunities are generally recognised as a key element to close inequalities given their link to higher earnings and employment but also to better health and longer lives.


Millennium Development Goals – in particular MDG3 : PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWER WOMEN
Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

Human Rights Council, Resolution calling for a Panel discussion on realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, A/HRC/27/L.8 (2014)


OECD Recommendation of the Council on gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship, 29 May 20013

Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship: Final Report to the MCM 2012 / C/MIN(2012)5 / OECD, 2012

Council of Europe (CoE)

Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)13 of the Committee of Ministers’ to member States on gender mainstreaming in education .


UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS)

UIS Statistics on Education presents indicators disaggregated by sex, and has developed new indicators that better capture the school experience of girls and boys. These data shed light on national experiences but also help to formulate policies and benchmark progress toward gender parity and equality in education.


School enrolment and early leavers from education and training / March 2014

Education and training statistics introduced / October 2013

Tertiary education statistics / January 2015

Education statistics at regional level / March 2014

Lifelong learning statistics / September 2013

In 2012, 40% of young women had completed tertiary education compared with 32% of men / March 2014:

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  • […] Globally, the picture on educational attainment is mixed. Whilst some countries have already reached parity, 22% have wider education gaps than they did ten years ago. On this measure, Europe is a fraction of a percent away from full parity. However, the ranking masks a number of concerns. Within the EU, the issues are far more complex than simply gaining access to education for girls, as remains the problem in many developing countries. Inequalities persist because of the educational choices that girls make, which may prevent them from achieving the potential they show earlier in education. The under-representation of women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which are likely to be at the forefront of a changing economy, is particularly worrying. Read more analyses in the Infographic on Women and education in the EU and the overviews of Women in science and research and Education and training of women. […]

  • Please help us to understand the issue of Gender equality…among allarming messages of ” gender lessons” that teach young children to decide on their sexual identity. No mention of a battle against sexual discrimination but of a distorted idea of gender identity. Is this a battle between among the sexes? Is this a perversion of sexual identity? Or is it a battle to cancel sexual discrimination and to encourage parity in education and work towards a better future? What does this have to do with sexual identity and young children. Parents are worried and need to be consoled that this is not what they think it is.

  • […] The European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) is focusing its International Women’s Day events this year on empowering women and girls through education, with a public hearing and a range of publications. The vision of 18th century women’s rights campaigner, Mary Wollstonecraft, of a future where women would be able to pursue almost any career, has still not been fully realised, although access and opportunities for girls have expanded. As the European Parliament noted in 2013 on awarding the Sakharov prize to campaigner Malala Yousafzai, some 250 million young girls around the world are not free to go to school. Advancing gender parity and equality in education was one of the objectives of the 3rd Millennium Development Goal, which set a concrete target of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and in all levels of education no later than 2015. Whilst the UN reports progress at primary school level, the gap between boys and girls remains wide, especially at the tertiary level. Our infographic illustrates that within Europe the issue is now not so much about giving girls access to education as ensuring that they achieve their potential and understanding and addressing the factors that still prevent them from doing so. Read more analyses in our key source on education and training.  […]

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