Half the WorldGender equality in Yemen: women and education [Archives:2005/861/Culture]

July 21 2005

By Women's National Committee
The Yemen government has made a considerable effort to enhance primary education in the past decade. Both national and donor funds have been invested towards improving access and quality of education through various interventions. In the period between 2000-2005, gender equity in education was actively pursued through the Second Five year plan, 2000-2005, the National Strategy for Improving primary education (part of the Education for All initiative) and through the National Strategy for Poverty Reduction. The National Strategy for Girls Education, 1998, focuses on increasing primary education opportunities for girls and aimed to increase the rate of enrollment to 80% in 2025. Despite these initiatives education of girls in Yemen lags far behind that of boys both in primary as well as secondary education. In the following section we focus on the specific challenges in achieving gender parity in education as per the MDG commitments.

Primary education

To begin with, the rate of the first grade enrollment (6 year olds) has increased very clearly from (49.8%) of the universal enrollment in 2000 to (56.45%) in 2003. The male net enrollment has increased from 41% in 2001 to 61.2% in 2003 while the net female rate of enrollment increased from 24.85% in 2000 to 51.20% in 2003. These steep increases in enrollment has been made possible largely due to the fact that 6-14 age group comprises 40.5% of the total population.

Despite the 3.94% increase in overall primary enrollment gender inequality persist in education. Although, the gender gap in primary enrollment decreased from 37.18 in 90/91 to 24.79 in 2002, the female enrollment rate in the first year of basic education was only 75% of the male enrollment rate in 2002 (refer table 1). Inconsistencies between the Primary Education Strategy which aims at only 90% coverage of girls enrollment in primary education in the 6-14 age group and the MDG objective of 100% is worth mentioning. Moreover, there is no specific mechanism to ensure achievement of this goal.

As is evident there has been an overall increase in primary enrollment in the past few years. It is also quite clear that boys enrollment has benefited much more from the overall thrust to increase primary education while girls primary enrollment continues to lag behind. The gap in female and male intake rate is another good enrollment parity indicator and indicates the extent to which gender equality is being achieved in recent years.

Gross Intake Rate in Primary Education

Both boys and girls intake rates in the past few years have increased in large measure to the emphasis on improving primary school education. Boys are making greater gains from these new opportunities in access to education, while the girls primary intake rate continues to lag behind. The gender parity gap is over 30 percentage points as recent as 2001. If the new resources and opportunities in education are to be equitably distributed, to achieve gender parity in enrollment it would require specific intervention designed to increase girl children primary enrollment intake rates

This is serious cause for concern if the gender equity goals in the MDGs are to be achieved. The main focus of the gender inequality in the MDGs is enrollment parity. 'Gender parity is achieved when the same proportion of girls and boys in the primary and secondary age groups are enrolled in school'. Another important factor to be taken into account is the huge gender gap in the rural areas with female enrollment in cities doing much better (see Annexure 1).

Secondary Education

While fulfilling the gender parity in enrollment in primary education is a top priority, the problem becomes aggravated in post-primary level.

Participation in Secondary

Overall, there are a fewer children that complete primary school and continue on to secondary or post-primary. More especially for girls, there are far fewer that are able to continue to acquire specific qualifications and skills which will undermine their ability to compete in the labour market. If girls are to maximize on the larger macro-economic growth and employment opportunities in the forthcoming years, a major push in secondary education would be critical in meeting this challenge. The absence of appropriate technical and vocational training accounts for the low rate of females in the technical secondary enrollment with only 407 female students (10% in 2001).

Educational attainment/completion

If girl children do manage to enroll in schools, there is no guarantee that they will complete the education cycle. Drop-out and completion are important aspects or dimensions in assessing the scale of the problem/challenges towards ensuring gender parity in educational achievements. This would assist in designing appropriate policy interventions and programmes to avoid wastage of scarce resources.

Gender inequality gap in completion rate persist both in primary and secondary education as evinced in the figures in the table. The gender gap appears to be more stark in the secondary level than the primary, with less than half of the girls going on to finish Grade 9. We may infer from this, that chances of girls remaining in school diminishes as they make the transition to post-primary and higher up the grades. This is serious cause for concern as Swainson points out 'many of the health and empowerment benefits of education are not unlocked until girls have progressed to secondary level' (A Fair Chance to Girls Education, pg. 17).

Easy access to educational services is perhaps one of the major barriers that prevent girl children from going to schools especially in those governorates where the terrain is difficult and poorly serviced. Families fear for the safety of their daughters – risk of harassment by strangers and difficulty encountered in travel – result in girls being withdrawn from school. The increase in rural drop-out rates among females can be attributed to the absence of gender segregated schools/classes and teachers inability to motivate girls in co-educational schools. 85% of schools in rural areas and 60% in urban being are co-educational schools ignoring this barrier to girl's education.

Presence of female teachers has an important influence in both girl children enrollment in schools as well as retention. Both from the point of view of families feeling more secure with female teachers and their ability to act as role models and motivate girls in the learning process. Currently there are far fewer female teachers than male teachers. The percentage of female teachers in the cities is only 52% of the total number of urban male teachers, while the percentage for rural areas is only 8.6%. The total number of female teachers both in cities and suburbs are a mere 21% of salaried male teachers employed by the Ministry of Education. Gender-neutral recruitment policies and process lead to men outnumbering women at all levels of the education system.

High cost of schooling is a major constraint with families contributing as much as 45% of their income towards education result in their not wishing to send their girl children to school. This is particularly relevant to poor families in rural areas with low incomes. Inability to afford the financial burden of enrolling girls in schools in terms of expenses towards uniforms, fees, travel and other related expenses is a major obstacle in girl children's education. This is also accompanied with a strong son preference.

A final point, the actual number of children who have never attended primary school is distressing – a little short of 50% (male: 46.79% and female: 47.24%). While the variation in gender gap between female and male is not large, this is a major challenge as an estimated 46% of Yemen's population comprises of the young and will be new entrants in the work force. Absence of rural-urban break-up is a major handicap in making an accurate assessment on the scale and nature of the problem.