Female education

Female education is a catch-all term of a complex set of issues and debates surrounding education (primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, and health education in particular) for girls and women. It includes areas of gender equality and access to education, and its connection to the alleviation of poverty. Also involved are the issues of single-sex education and religious education, in that the division of education along gender lines as well as religious teachings on education have been traditionally dominant and are still highly relevant in contemporary discussions of educating females as a global consideration. In the field of female education in STEM, it has been shown that girls’ and women under-representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is deep rooted.[1]

While the feminist movement certainly promoted the importance of the issues attached to female education, the discussion is wide-ranging and by no means narrowly defined. It may include, for example, AIDS education.[2] Universal education, meaning state-provided primary and secondary education independent of gender is not yet a global norm, even if it is assumed in most developed countries. In some Western countries, women have surpassed men at many levels of education. For example, in the United States in 2005/2006, women earned 62% of associate degrees, 58% of bachelor's degrees, 60% of master's degrees, and 50% of doctorates.[3]

Education for disabled women has also improved. In 2011, Giusi Spagnolo became the first woman with Down Syndrome to graduate college in Europe (she graduated from the University of Palermo in Italy).[4][5]

Improving girls' educational levels has been demonstrated to have clear impacts on the health and economic future of young women, which in turn improves the prospects of their entire community .[6] The infant mortality rate of babies whose mothers have received primary education is half that of children whose mothers are illiterate.[7] In the poorest countries of the world, 50% of girls do not attend secondary school. Yet, research shows that every extra year of school for girls increases their lifetime income by 15%. Improving female education, and thus the earning potential of women, improves the standard of living for their own children, as women invest more of their income in their families than men do.[8] Yet, many barriers to education for girls remain. In some African countries, such as Burkina Faso, girls are unlikely to attend school for such basic reasons as a lack of private latrine facilities for girls.[9]

Higher attendance rates of high schools and university education among women, particularly in developing countries, have helped them make inroads to professional careers with better-paying salaries and wages. Education increases a woman's (and her partner and the family's) level of health and health awareness. Furthering women's levels of education and advanced training also tends to lead to later ages of initiation of sexual activity and first intercourse, later age at first marriage, and later age at first childbirth, as well as an increased likelihood to remain single, have no children, or have no formal marriage and alternatively, have increasing levels of long-term partnerships. It can lead to higher rates of barrier and chemical contraceptive use (and a lower level of sexually transmitted infections among women and their partners and children), and can increase the level of resources available to women who divorce or are in a situation of domestic violence. It has been shown, in addition, to increase women's communication with their partners and their employers, and to improve rates of civic participation such as voting or the holding of office.[10][11]


Education and violence against women

In Pakistan, a negative relationship was found between the formal level of education a woman attains and the likelihood of violence against that woman (After, 2013). The researcher used snowball convenient sampling, a sampling method where participants are referred. Ethical and privacy issues made this the most convenient method. An informant played a major role in gathering information that was then cross-checked. The sample of victims of violence was made up of married women from ages 18–60 both from rural and urban communities. The study described different forms of physical violence that are already present and provided an idea of what women go through, even across communities (rural and urban). Education in this study was stressed to be the solution and a necessity in eliminating violence. A discussion of political and social barriers is needed.[12]

The relationship is a lot more complicated than it seems, women can be illiterate but still become empowered (Marrs Fuchsel, 2014). Immigrant Latina Women (ILW) were part of a qualitative study of 8 to 10 participant groups, at a time, and completed an 11-week program centered on self-esteem, domestic violence awareness and healthy relationships. Immigrant Latina Women (ILW) are a highly affected group by domestic violence. Though this program took place outside of a traditional classroom, dialogue, critical thinking and emotional well-being were stressed, areas that should be acquired while in school. Lastly, though many of the women were illiterate they were still able to come away with a stronger sense of control over their own lives, an important life skill.[13]

Education and women's empowerment

Education systems vary in administration, curriculum and personnel, but all have an influence on the students that they serve. As women have gained rights, formal education has become a symbol of progress and a step toward gender equity. In order for true gender equity to exist, a holistic approach needs to be taken. The discussion of girl power and women's education as solutions for eliminating violence against women and economic dependence on men can sometimes take dominance and result in the suppression of understanding how context, history and other factors affect women (Khoja-Moolji, 2015). For example, when past secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, referenced the tragedies of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan and the girls kidnapping in Chibok, Nigeria as comparable, using girls’ education as the focus, history and context were ignored. What led to the shooting of Malala was reduced to being solely about her educating herself as a girl. United States interference, poverty, and government corruption and instability were not addressed.[14]

Education systems and schools play a central role in determining girls’ interest in various subjects, including STEM subjects, which can contribute to women's empowerment by providing equal opportunities to access and benefit from quality STEM education.[1]

Women's empowerment and international development

Micro- and macro level factors that get attention by international development agencies (IDA) vary. For example, reaching a quota of representatives in political positions (macro level) but ignoring how home life pressures (micro level) do not actually leave women at a position of free self-expression (Stromquist, 2015). IDA's tend to focus on numbers and on information provided by the national governments. This ignores the possibility that national governments are not the most reliable or trust worthy. Programs put on by FAWE (Forum for African American Educationalists) called Tuseme clubs in Africa, which are Non Formal Education programs, are explored as they have proven successful and effective but do not get enough support from the government to be replicated. Tuseme means “let’s speak out” in Swahili and in action the programs tailor to each participating school, focusing on communication and life skills, keeping the community in mind. The program is set up as an extracurricular activity that focuses on issues through tools like school newspapers, dance and theater. In this example, education and empowerment are tackled on outside the classroom.[15]

Female education and the environment

Education of girls (and empowerment of women in general) in developing countries leads to faster development and a faster decrease of population growth. It therefore has a significant impact on environmental issues such as climate change. The research network Drawdown estimates that educating girls is the sixth most efficient action against climate change (ahead of solar farms, nuclear power, afforestation and many other actions).[16]



Christian missionaries in the 19th century opened modern educational methods, but they usually focused on boys. After early experiments they settled on promoting ideology of domestic femininity imparted through girls' schooling.[17] In South Africa after 1820, male Scottish missionaries decided that only the most basic education was necessary to prepare native women for the propagation of Christianity within the home. They prevented female teachers from operating in the Scottish mission's territory. They delayed the establishment of a Girls' Department at Lovedale Institution. Finally new leadership arrived who had a broader vision of uplifting native women so they could promote Christianity and Western gender codes.[18]

Muslims from India who came to East Africa in the late 19th century brought along a highly restrictive policy against schooling for their girls.[19]

As of 2015, Priscilla Sitienei is attending elementary school in Kenya at age 92; if confirmed by the Guinness World Records, she would be the oldest student in elementary school.[20]

West Africa


Women's education in West Africa manifested in both formal and informal structures, with one of the more notable structures that had influence on women's education being preparatory schools labeled "Bush Schools." [21] These bush schools were institutions that would oftentimes boast near 100% graduation rates and completed courses. They were organized by women and had a planned, structured curriculum, which included learning how to do skills such as learning how to "fish, cook, weave, spin cotton, dress hair, and make baskets, musical instruments, pots, and fishing nets."[21] Much of the scholarship and research on these schools arises from the Bundu schools of Sierra Leone. In addition to these skills, girls would often be given reproductive education, such as birth control techniques or child rearing skills. In particular to the Bundu schools, women would be given an intense education in medicinal herbs and home medicinal skills.[21] These schools didn't just teach educational curriculum (such as history passed on through songs and dances), but enabled the transmission of cultural values and were centers of female power. Despite the colonial and post-colonial ideal that women ought to be educated just to serve decorative or child-bearing maternal roles, these institutions taught women to play central economic, corporate and familial roles in their communities.[21]


Early colonial forms of education on the West African coasts, particularly among the Dahomey, Asante and Yorùbá people, were pioneered by missionaries and institutions that were trying to educate religious thought in addition to teaching more traditional western educational topics such as reading and writing.[22] As early as 1529, King John III of Portugal had given instruction to open schools and provide education in "religious thought, reading and writing" and for the instructors to be paid by the pupil.[22] For women in particular however, these colonial forms of education brought with them European ideals of women's roles in the family, society and economy. These Western ideas of womanhood oftentimes contrasted with women's roles in the economy, society, or in the home.[23] For example, Igbo women had associations known as Mikiri, which were economic and social forums for women in which they discussed direct action to enforce their interests, that were largely misunderstood and disregarded by the British colonial government. Hence, as the British colonial government introduced schools to the region, they ignored educating women to fill economic roles in the community.[24] In fact, the educational ideal of men as "breadwinners", i.e. the primary financial support of a nuclear family structure, was introduced by the British colonial state in West Africa.[25]

One of the groups of people that the colonial governments in West Africa put heavy import on educating were the mixed children of white people, typically men, and indigenous people, typically women. In pre-British colonist state Ghana, when much of the interaction between indigenous people and Europeans was through Dutch traders, mixed race children of traders and indigenous people were removed from their indigenous communities and placed in Dutch educational institutions in Ghana.[26] In these early colonial schools the education was also gendered by Western standards: the boys were educated from a young age to be military officers in the Dutch army and the girls were educated to be married to Dutch military officers in the region.[26]

One of the other ways through which colonizing countries were able to exert influence and indirect rule over the indigenous people was through maternal education. In colonial Ghana, Methodist missionaries led classes teaching western methods of hygiene and child birth to the indigenous mothers or mothers-to-be.[23] The missionaries tried to construct an ideal of motherhood that matched white European middle-class standards, irrespective of the social context of the ideals of motherhood in place in the Asante societies they were located in.[23]


In post-colonial West Africa, many of the ideals of Western education have remained while much of the infrastructure and funding left with the colonial presence.[27] Particularly in Nigeria, formal education was seen as a policy making tool, as women's formal education has been linked to having effects on "population growth, health, nutrition, fertility, infant mortality, and changes in women's productivity and earnings."[28] Researchers have cited some disadvantages however to this reliance on women's formal education. One, there is concern for women being alienated from their indigenous cultures and not receiving the education in values that were typically received through pre-colonial indigenous educational systems.[27] In addition, there is an increasing body of literature that suggests how the formal education institutions channel women into particular lower-earning job fields such as the humanities, while guiding women away from more technical jobs with higher wages.[27]

In regards to academic achievement, according to the FAWE Conference girls across the Sub-Saharan region reported lower scores in Math and Science subjects.[29] The tendency for girls to be pushed into clerical positions upon finishing school is also a widely researched and held belief.[27] Despite this, formal education offers many benefits recognized internationally. The Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women has released publications citing numerous ways through which women's education in Africa is beneficial to society as a whole. These entail an increase in family health, in higher wage jobs available to women, an improvement in quality standards of childhood development, and a greater inclusion of women in decisions making that can impact a nation in environmental, political, social and economic ways.[29] Despite there being a drop in participation of women in education in the majority of countries in West Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, rates of women education have been steadily climbing since then. However, there is still much statistical gender disparity as according to UNESCO statistics on women's enrollment and graduation rates.

Gender disparities

One of the primary ways in which there are gender disparities in education in West Africa are in the ratios of male to female participation: 43.6% of men have completed primary education as opposed to 35.4% of women, 6.0% of men have completed secondary education as opposed to 3.3% of women, and 0.7% of men have completed tertiary education as opposed to 0.2% of women.[30] Some of the reasons for poor enrollment and participation is the "male breadwinner" ideal that prioritizes educating boys over girls and limited funds available to families for education. In addition, in West Africa women are seen as the primary providers of unpaid care work. This offers competing demands on the time of girls and oftentimes their families will prioritize girls' spending time taking care of siblings or doing domestic labor.[29] In addition, a leading cause of gender disparities in education are gender disparities in the labor market, which lead to gendered ideas of women's role in a society.[31]

In addition to this, some gender disparities are caused by teacher's attitudes towards students in the classroom according to the students' gender.[32] There are some preconceived notions that boys are more intelligent and harder working than girls in some West African countries. In particular in Guinea, surveys have been taken by researchers suggesting that school teachers, particularly in rural schools, believe that boys learn lessons better, have more ambition, are smarter, and work harder, while girls make less effort, rarely give good responses to questions, and use poor French expression.[32] In addition in both urban and rural schools analyzed, girls were expected to do the manual labor to keep the schools clean while this expectation was not held for the boys.[32]

Gender disparities in higher education persist as well, with women accounting for a little over 20% of university level enrollment in all of Sub-Saharan Africa, and countries in West Africa such as Niger and Ghana reporting rates of 15% and 21%, respectively.[33] This is considered a contributing factor to why there are so few women in higher level management and administrative jobs.[29] In Ghana in 1990, women made up less than 1% of managers in the labor market, but with an average annual growth rate of 3.2%.[33] Researchers hope that improving primary education attainment and accomplishment will lead to more attainment and accomplishment in the tertiary educational level and in the labor market.[29]

Gender Equality in African Education

In the past few decades, African countries have attached great importance to the role of education in the process of nation-state construction and development. Therefore, education has been placed on the policy priorities, and the rapid expansion of the number of educational institutions at all levels has greatly increased women's educational opportunities. In particular, after the World Conference on Education for All, women's education received special attention in Africa and achieved rapid development.[34]


Take Sub-Saharan Africa as an example. In early 1960, the gross enrollment rate of girls in primary education, secondary education and higher education was 25%, 1% and 0.1%, respectively. By 2006, the figures were 89%, 28% and 4%, respectively.[35]

While the enrollment rate of women at all levels is increasing, the gender parity index is also improving. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gender parity index for primary school enrollment in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2006 was 0.77, 0.81, 0.89, and 0.92, respectively. In some countries, women's gross enrollment ratios even exceed men's gross enrollment rates, such as the Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, and Zambia. The gender parity index for secondary and higher education also tends to increase.[35]

In addition to the enrollment rate and gender parity index, other indicators, such as repetition rates, dropout rates, graduation rates, etc., also reflect the progress of women's education in Africa. In 1999, the repetition rate of female primary education in Sub-Saharan African countries was 17.7%, and in 2006 it fell to 13.3%. At the same time, the increase in female enrollment rates has also led to a growing number of female teachers in Africa.[35]


It can be said that in the past few decades, female education in Africa has made great progress. But relatively speaking, this progress is still slow and uneven. On the one hand, the level of development of women's education between countries and countries in this region is still significantly different due to differences in geographical location, social class, language and ethnicity. On the other hand, compared with the rest of the world, Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, still lags behind in the field of women's education.[36]

Compared with men, women in most African countries have been disadvantaged in education, and the higher the level of education, the more unfavorable the situation. One of the most important reasons for this “vertical separation” is that girls’ academic performance is worse than that of boys, and the percentage of students who can graduate and pass the exam is low. At the same time, in the diversion of secondary education and higher education, there is also a “level separation” of gender, which means that boys and girls are concentrated in certain classes and majors, so that these courses become male-dominated subjects or female-dominated subjects. For example, in the fields of education, humanities, and art, the proportion of girls generally far exceeds that of boys. Science, engineering, and architecture are dominated by boys.[36]

Obstacles to Female Education

There are gender differences in education in Africa, and the factors that lead to these differences are manifold. The factors that hinder the education of gender equality can be roughly divided into economic factors, school-related factors, and social and cultural factors.[36][37]

Economic Factor

Family economic status is an important factor in determining whether a parent is capable of withstanding the direct and indirect costs of a child's education. Direct costs include tuition, school uniform fees, transportation fees and other material fees like textbooks. In Kenya, 47% of the rural population and 27% of the urban population live below the poverty line, yet they have to bear nearly 60% of the cost of primary education. This forces them to selectively educate their children. For poor families, girls are the most direct victims when education costs are unaffordable. In a survey in the mid-1990s, 58% of respondents let their daughters to drop out, while only 27% of respondents chose sons.[37]

Compared with boys, the opportunity cost of girls to go to school is higher, because they bear multiple roles such as family workers and mothers' assistants, and they have to bear more labor than men. For example, in a province of Zambia, girls spend four times as much time on direct productive labor as boys. Therefore, girls’ late schooling, absenteeism and dropouts are closely related to labor.[36]

The location of the school has a direct impact on the type of education that women receive, the quality of education, and the time of education. Many parents are unwilling to let young children go to school far away from home, and the distance between the school and the home is very common in rural Africa. Insufficient infrastructure such as school teaching, health, and dormitory can also prevent women from entering school. At the same time, the curriculum and related teachers, syllabus, textbooks and teaching methods lack gender awareness, or exist gender bias, which has far more adverse effects for girls than boys. In many African countries, it is still to strengthen the society's perception of women's family life, and to hide the prejudice that women's intelligence is not as good as men's. In such a learning environment, women's learning attitudes are often negative, and they cannot fully exert their abilities. In the secondary and higher education stages, women are usually assigned to learn courses that are more feminine, such as home economics, craft classes or biology (biological is considered to be related to women's traditional occupations, such as nursing).[36]

In addition, various forms of sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools, or concerns about sexual violence and sexual harassment, are silent barriers to girls’ enrollment. These behaviors not only affect the school's academic performance, but also cause pregnancy, early marriage and so on. At the same time, in many countries, teenage pregnancy almost interrupted girls' school education.[38]

Social and Cultural Factor

Africa's deep-rooted attitude towards women may be traced back to the patriarchal system that continued in African native culture and colonial experience. Traditionally, women's reproductive and family roles are of great value. Adolescent African girls feel this pressure strongly because she either assists her mother or other female relatives to complete their home tasks or achieves a transition to an adult role such as a wife or mother at this time. From that age, some girls who are still in elementary school are at risk of interrupting their studies. The traditional concept of marriage in Africa regards investment in women's education as a waste, that is, all proceeds flow to another family. Therefore, it is often difficult for women to get care from their father and thus lose many educational opportunities.[36]

Some Policy Interventions

Effectively promote universal, free and compulsory basic education, reduce or eliminate the direct cost of basic education, so that primary education can be more affordable. For example, in 2001, Tanzania implemented free primary education, resulting in a rapid increase in the gross enrollment rate of women's primary education from 61.6% to 88.8%.[34][37]

School's Intervention

Schools create a safe and fair learning environment and institutional culture that is conducive to women. Gender considerations will be taken into account in the supply and allocation of resources to meet women's specific educational needs. More important is to strengthen gender awareness education for all teachers and educators.[34]

Government's Intervention

The government plays an important role in advancing gender equality in education. One of its roles is to create a good environment through laws and policies to promote women's education to achieve gender equality. Beyond the law, the government must also set up a clear framework. For example, in Ethiopia, the government clearly stipulates that women and men have the same opportunity to accept the same curriculum, and are free to choose a profession to ensure that women have the same employment opportunities as men.[34]



Along with the custom of footbinding among Chinese women that lasted through the end of the 19th century, it was recognized that a woman's virtue lay with her lack of knowledge. As a result, female education was not considered to be worthy of attention. With the arrival of numerous Christian missionaries from Britain and the US to China in the 19th century and some of them being involved in the starting of schools for women, female education started to receive some attention.

Due to the social custom that men and women should not be near one another, the women of China were reluctant to be treated by male doctors of Western medicine. This resulted in a tremendous need for women in Western medicine in China. Thus, female medical missionary, Dr.Mary H. Fulton (1854-1927),[39] was sent by the Foreign Missions Board of the Presbyterian Church (USA)to found the first medical college for women in China. Known as the Hackett Medical College for Women (夏葛女子醫學院),[40][41] this College was located in Guangzhou, China, and was enabled by a large donation from Mr. Edward A.K. Hackett (1851-1916) of Indiana, United States. The College was dedicated in 1902 and offered a four-year curriculum. By 1915, there were more than 60 students, mostly in residence. Most students became Christians, due to the influence of Dr. Fulton. The College was officially recognized, with its diplomas marked with the official stamp of the Guangdong provincial government. The College was aimed at the spreading of Christianity and modern medicine and the elevation of Chinese women's social status. The David Gregg Hospital for Women and Children (also known as Yuji Hospital 柔濟醫院[42][43] was affiliated with this College. The graduates of this College included Lee Sun Chau (周理信, 1890-1979, alumna of (Belilios Public School) and WONG Yuen-hing (黃婉卿), both of whom graduated in the late 1910s [44][45] and then practiced medicine in the hospitals in Guangdong province.

Education after the establishment of the People's Republic of China

Between the years 1931 and 1945, the percent of uneducated women was over 90%, and most of the women who were educated had only completed the elementary level.[46] In the 1950s, after the establishment of People Republic China, the government started a civilization project.[47] It enabled large amounts of uneducated women to learn basic writing and calculation. This project raised the proportion of educated women. It was promoted not only in cities but also in rural area. Villages had their own elementary schools. Instead of only taking care of children and chores at home, middle-aged women had chances to learn writing and reading in local schools.

In the 1980s, Chinese central government passed a new education law, which required local governments to promote 9-year obligation education nationwide [48] The new education law guaranteed education rights until middle school. Before the 1960s, female enrollment in elementary school was 20%. 20 years after publishment of education law, in the year 1995, this percentage had increased to 98.2%. By 2003, proportion of female who dropped from middle school decreased to 2.49%.[49]

According to the fifth national census in 2000, the average education length of females is up to 7.4 years. This digit increases from 7.0 years to 7.4 years in 3 years. However, the female education duration is still 0.8 year less than male's duration. This gap in higher-level of education is larger in rural areas. In the countryside, parents tend to use their limited resources for sons because they believe sons have abilities to bring more back and their contributions to family in the future are more significant than daughters. In an investigation, parents are 21.9% more likely to stop financing girls' education if they come into financial problems and family issues. Boys are provided with more opportunities for further studying, especially after middle school. This difference became more evident in the universities.[50]

When time comes into the 21st century, university education is becoming more prevalent. The total enrollment goes up. Compare to the year of 1977, which is the first year when college entrance examination was recovered, the admission rate increased from 4.8% to 74.86%.[51] Since the general admission has largely risen, more students got into universities. Although women are assumed to own the same rights of general education, they are forced to do better in the Chinese college entrance examination (Gaokao) than males. Girls need to achieve higher grades than male students in order to get into the same level university. It is an invisible ceiling for Chinese female, especially in the top universities. It is not a public rule but a mainstream consensus among most of Chinese university admission offices. According to a telephone interview with an officer, who declined to give her name, at the Teaching Office at the China University of Political Science and Law, "female students must account for less than 15 percent of students because of the nature of their future career."[52]


Vedic period
British India

The Church Missionary Society tasted greater success in South India. The first boarding school for girls came up in Tirunelveli in 1821. By 1840 the Scottish Church Society constructed six schools with roll strength of 200 Hindu girls. When it was mid-century, the missionaries in Madras had included under its banner, 8,000 girls. Women's employment and education was acknowledged in 1854 by the East Indian Company's Programme: Wood's Dispatch. Slowly, after that, there was progress in female education, but it initially tended to be focused on the primary school level and was related to the richer sections of society. The overall literacy rate for women increased from 0.2% in 1882 to 6% in 1947.[54]

In western India, Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitri Bai became pioneers of female education when they started a school for girls in 1848 in Pune.[55] In eastern India, apart from important contributions by eminent Indian social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune was also a pioneer in promoting women's education in 19th-century India. With participation of like-minded social reformers like Ramgopal Ghosh, Raja Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and Pandit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, he established Calcutta's (now Kolkata) first school for girls in 1849 called the secular Native Female School, which later came to be known as Bethune School.[56][57] In 1879, Bethune College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta, was established which is the oldest women's college in Asia.

In 1878, the University of Calcutta became one of the first universities to admit female graduates to its degree programmes, before any of the British universities had later done the same. This point was raised during the Ilbert Bill controversy in 1883, when it was being considered whether Indian judges should be given the right to judge British offenders. The role of women featured prominently in the controversy, where English women who opposed the bill argued that Bengali women, whom they stereotyped as "ignorant" and neglected by their men and that Indian men should therefore not be given the right to judge cases involving English women. Bengali women who supported the bill responded by claiming that they were more educated than the English women opposed to the bill and pointed out that more Indian women had degrees than British women did at the time.[58]

Independent India

After India attained independence in 1947, the University Education Commission was created to recommend suggestions to improve the quality of education. However, their report spoke against female education, referring to it as: "Women's present education is entirely irrelevant to the life they have to lead. It is not only a waste but often a definite disability."[59]

However, the fact that the female literacy rate was at 8.9% post-Independence could not be ignored. Thus, in 1958, a national committee on women's education was appointed by the government, and most of its recommendations were accepted. The crux of its recommendations were to bring female education on the same footing as offered for boys.[60]

Soon afterwards, committees were created that talked about equality between men and women in the field of education. For example, one committee on differentiation of curriculum for boys and girls (1959) recommended equality and a common curricula at various stages of their learning. Further efforts were made to expand the education system, and the Education Commission was set up in 1964, which largely talked about female education, which recommended a national policy to be developed by the government. This occurred in 1968, providing increased emphasis on female education.[61]

Current policies

Before and after Independence, India has been taking active steps towards women's status and education. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2001, has been a path breaking step towards the growth of education, especially for females. According to this act, elementary education is a fundamental right for children between the ages of 6 and 14. The government has undertaken to provide this education free of cost and make it compulsory for those in that age group. This undertaking is more widely known as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).

Since then, the SSA has come up with many schemes for inclusive as well as exclusive growth of Indian education as a whole, including schemes to help foster the growth of female education.

The major schemes are the following:

  • Mahila Samakhya Program: This program was launched in 1988 as a result of the New Education Policy (1968). It was created for the empowerment of women from rural areas especially socially and economically marginalized groups. When the SSA was formed, it initially set up a committee to look into this programme, how it was working and recommend new changes that could be made.[62]
  • Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme(KGBV): This scheme was launched in July, 2004, to provide education to girls at primary level. It is primarily for the underprivileged and rural areas where literacy level for females is very low. The schools that were set up have 100% reservation: 75% for backward class and 25% for BPL (below Poverty line) females.
  • National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL): This programme was launched in July, 2003. It was an incentive to reach out to the girls who the SSA was not able to reach through other schemes. The SSA called out to the "hardest to reach girls". This scheme has covered 24 states in India. Under the NPEGEL, "model schools" have been set up to provide better opportunities to girls.[63]

One notable success came in 2013, when the first two girls ever scored in the top 10 ranks of the entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).[64] Sibbala Leena Madhuri ranked eighth, and Aditi Laddha ranked sixth.[64]

In addition, the status and literacy rates between West Bengal and Mizoram were found to be profound; a study compared the two states as they took on politically different approaches to helping empower women (Ghosh, Chakravarti, & Mansi, 2015). In West Bengal, literacy rates were found to be low even after fulfilling the 73rd amendment from 1992. The amendment established affirmative action by allotting 33% of seats at panchayats, or local self-governments, to women. Mizoram chose not to partake in the 73rd Amendment but has seen greater literacy rates, it is second highest in the country, and also has a better sex ratio. It was thus found that affirmative actions steps alone were not enough. Women also need to be given the opportunity to develop through formal education to be empowered to serve and profit from holding these public leadership roles.[65]

Raising awareness

The Canadian start-up Decode Global has developed the mobile game Get Water!, a game for social change focusing on the water scarcity in India and the effect it has on girls' education, especially in slums and rural areas. In areas with no ready access to water, girls are often pulled out of school to collect water for their families.[66]

Islamic countries

Women in Islam played an important role in the foundations of many educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri's founding of the University of Al Karaouine, the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree awarding educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records,[67][68] in 859. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosques (places of worship) and madrasas (places of education) were established in Damascus, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf (charitable trust or trust law) system. Half of all the royal patrons for these institutions were also women.[69]

According to the Sunni scholar Ibn Asakir, in the 12th century, there were opportunities for female education in the mediaeval Islamic world. Asakir wrote that women should study, earn ijazahs (academic degrees), and qualify as scholars and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters.[70] Ibn Asakir himself had studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. According to a hadith collected in the Saḥih of al-Bukhārī, the women of Medina who aided Muhammad were notable for not letting social mores restrain their education in religious knowledge.[71]

How splendid were the women of the anṣār; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned [yatafaqqahna] in the faith.

While it was unusual for females to enroll as students in formal classes, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrasas, and other public places. While there were no legal restrictions on female education, some men, such as Muhammad ibn al-Hajj (d. 1336), did not approve of this practice and were appalled at the behaviour of some women who informally audited lectures in his time.[72]

While women accounted for no more than one percent of Islamic scholars prior to the 12th century, there was a large increase of female scholars after this. In the 15th century, al-Sakhawi devoted an entire volume of his 12-volume biographical dictionary al-Ḍawʾ al-lāmiʻ to female scholars, giving information on 1,075 of them.[73] More recently, the scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, currently a researcher from the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has written 40 volumes on the muḥaddithāt (the women scholars of ḥadīth), and found at least 8,000 of them.[74]

Islamic Republic of Iran

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran was under control of Islamic rules, the progress of female education was affected by Islamic ecclesiocracy. Women are forced to wear veiling and are prevented from going to the same school as male students. Female students have to learn different versions of textbooks, which are special editions only for female students. Unmarried women are ineligible for financial aid if they attempt to study abroad. Throughout the past 30 years, the issue of female education has been constantly under debate.[75]

Iranian women do have desires and abilities to pursue further education. An Iranian high school student can earn a diploma after studying 3 years. If students aim to enter colleges, they will stay in the high schools for the fourth year study, which has very intense study. According to researches, 42% of female students choose to have fourth year in the high school but only 28% of male students choose to study in order to enter university. Moreover, women have a much higher probability than men to pass college entrance exams. Islamic female are in need of achieving higher education and truth proved that their abilities are enough for getting higher education. The education opportunities for female need more national attention and less regulations.[75]

During 1978 and 1979, the proportion of women who participated in universities as students or faculties was rather low. 31% of students admitted to universities were women. For faculty gender composition, there are 14% female. This situation has changed with time passing by. University enrollment was decreased under the influence of Iranian Cultural Revolution. The general enrollment population declined during that time. After the cultural revolution, the amount of enrollment was going up. The increase in the number of university students is accompanied with an increase in female rate.[75]

Islamic higher education contains 5 levels. The 5 levels are associate, bachelor's, master's, professional doctorate and specialized doctorate.[75] Before the revolution, the gender gap is obvious in master level and specialized doctorate, which are only 20% and 27%. It has changed after 30 years. In 2007, the female percent in master's degree rose up to 43% and for specialized doctorate degree, this data rose up to 33%.[76]

Female rate has not only increased in the students but also in faculty. 20 years ago, only 6% of all professors and 8% of all associated professors were women. Now 8% of all professors and 17% of all associated professors are female.[75]

Literacy programs

While formal education is prevalent amongst Iranian women, non-formal educational intuitions are an option as well. Non-formal education in the Islamic Republic of Iran originated from the Literary Movement Organization (LMO), which aspired to decrease illiteracy rates in the country. Established in 1984, LMO's tremendous efforts rectified the Pahlavi regime's neglect in regards to educating children and populations in rural areas. In the late 1980s, LMO created adult literacy programs, vocational-technical schools, and religious institutions to combat high illiteracy rates. Adult literacy programs teach introductory reading, writing, and math in two cycles. While reading, writing, dictation, and arithmetic are introduced in the first cycle, the second cycle delves into Islamic studies, experimental and social sciences, and the Persian language. Although these educational organizations are gender inclusive, they mainly cater to women; in fact, 71% of enrollees are women between the ages of 15-45. Throughout the 1990s, two-thirds of enrollees in literacy programs were women, which directly led to a dramatic rise (20%) in female literacy rates in Iran from 1987 to 1997.

Religious schools

Religious schools are another educational route for Iranian women. Their popularity is illustrated by the rise in the institution of "female seminaries" as of 2010. In 1984, Ayatollah Khomeini, former supreme leader of Iran, called for the creation of Jami‘at al-Zahra, an alliance of smaller religious schools. This led to the creation of the first female seminary in Iran. These institutions offer the opportunity to earn anything from high school diplomas to doctoral degrees. The acceptance rate for women into these religious institutions was 28% in 2010 (7,000 accepted out of 25,000 applicants).

Other educational routes

Newlyweds (women specifically) are educated on family planning, safe sex, and birth control in population control programs. In addition, the government has established rural health houses managed by local health workers. These health professionals travel to different areas in order to impart information about women's health and birth control.

Saudi Arabia


Ancient period

In ancient Rome, upperclass women seem to have been well-educated, some highly so, and were sometimes praised by male historians of the time for their learning and cultivation.[77] Cornelia Metella, for instance, was distinguished for her knowledge of geometry, literature, music, and philosophy.[78] In the wall paintings of Pompeii, women are more likely than men to be pictured with writing implements.[79] Some women had sufficient knowledge of Roman the law and oratorical training to conduct court cases on their own behalf, or on behalf of others.[80] Among occupations that required education, women could be scribes and secretaries, calligraphers,[81] and artists.[82]

Some and perhaps many Roman girls went to a ludus. Boys and girls were educated either together or with similar methods and curriculum. One passage in Livy's history assumes that the daughter of a centurion would be in school; the social rank of a centurion was typically equivalent to modern perceptions of the "middle class".[83] Girls as well as boys participated in public religious festivals, and sang advanced choral compositions that would require formal musical training.[84]

Medieval period

Medieval education for females was typically tied to a convent. Research has uncovered that several early women educators were in charge of schools for girls:

St. Ita of Ireland - died 570 AD. Founder and teacher of a co-ed school for girls and boys at her monastery of Cell Ide. Several important saints studied under her, including St. Brendan the Navigator.[85]

Caesaria the Younger - died 550 AD. Successor to the sister of St. Caesarius and abbess of the convent he founded for her nuns, Caesaria the Younger continued the teaching of over a hundred women at the convent and aided in the copying and preservation of books.[86]

St. Hilda of Whitby - died 680 AD. Founder of the co-ed monastery of Whitby (men and women lived in separate houses), she established a center of education in her monastery similar to what was founded by the Frankish nuns. According to the Venerable Bede, "Her prudence was so great, that not only meaner men in their need, but sometimes even kings and princes, sought and received her counsel."[87]

St. Bertilla - died c. 700 AD. Queen Bathild requested her services for the convent she had founded at Chelle. Her pupils founded convents in other parts of western Europe, including Saxony.[88]

St. Leoba - died 782 AD. St. Boniface requested her presence on his mission to the Germans and while there she founded an influential convent and school.

St. Bede the Venerable reports that noble-women were often sent to these schools for girls even if they did not intend to pursue the religious life,[89] and St. Aldhelm praised their curriculum for including grammar, poetry, and Scriptural study.[90] The biography of Sts. Herlinda and Renilda also demonstrates that women in these convent schools could be trained in art and music.[91]

During the reign of Emperor Charlemagne, he had his wife and daughters educated in the liberal arts at the Palace Academy of Aachen,[92] for which he is praised in the Vita Karolini Magni. There is evidence that other nobles had their daughters educated at the Palace Academy as well. In line with this, authors such as Vincent of Beauvais indicate that the daughters of the nobility were widely given to education so that they could live up to their social position to come.

Early modern period, humanist attitudes

In early modern Europe, the question of female education had become a commonplace one, in other words a literary topos for discussion. Around 1405 Leonardo Bruni wrote De studies et letteris,[93] addressed to Baptista di Montefeltro, the daughter of Antonio II da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino; it commends the study of Latin, but warns against arithmetic, geometry, astrology and rhetoric. In discussing the classical scholar Isotta Nogarola, however, Lisa Jardine[94] notes that (in the middle of the 15th century), ‘Cultivation’ is in order for a noblewoman; formal competence is positively unbecoming. Christine de Pisan's Livre des Trois Vertus is contemporary with Bruni's book, and sets down the things which a lady or baroness living on her estates ought to be able to do.[95]

In his 1516 book Utopia, Thomas More advocated for women to have the right to education.[96]

Erasmus wrote at length about education in De pueris instituendis (1529, written two decades before); not mostly concerned with female education,[97] in this work he does mention with approbation the trouble Thomas More took with teaching his whole family.[98] Catherine of Aragon "had been born and reared in one of the most brilliant and enlightened of European courts, where the cultural equality of men and women was normal".[99] By her influence, she made education for English women both popular and fashionable. In 1523, Juan Luis Vives, a follower of Erasmus, wrote in Latin his De institutione feminae Christianae.[100] This work was commissioned by Catherine, who had charge of the education of her daughter for the future Queen Mary I of England; in translation it appeared as Education of a Christian Woman.[101] It is in line with traditional didactic literature, taking a strongly religious direction.[102] It also placed a strong emphasis on Latin literature.[103] Also Comenius was an advocate of formal education for women.[104] In fact his emphasis was on a type of universal education making no distinction between humans; with an important component allowed to parental input, he advocated in his Pampaedia schooling rather than other forms of tutoring, for all.[105]

The Reformation prompted the establishment of compulsory education for boys and girls. Most important was Martin Luther's text 'An die Ratsherren aller Städte deutschen Landes,' (1524) with the call for establishing schools for both girls and boys.[106] Especially the Protestant South-West of the Holy Roman Empire, with cities like Strassburg, became pioneers in educational questions. Under the influence of Strasbourg in 1592 the German Duchy Pfalz-Zweibrücken became the first territory of the world with compulsory education for girls and boys.[107]

Elizabeth I of England had a strong humanist education, and was praised by her tutor Roger Ascham.[108] She fits the pattern of education for leadership, rather than for the generality of women. When Johannes Sturm published Latin correspondence with Ascham centred on the achievements in humanist study of Elizabeth and other high-ranking English persons, in Konrad Heresbach's De laudibus Graecarum literarum oratio (1551), the emphasis was on the nobility of those tackling the classics, rather than gender.[109]

Modern period

The issue of female education in the large, as emancipatory and rational, is broached seriously in the Enlightenment. Mary Wollstonecraft, who worked as a teacher, governess, and school-owner, wrote of it in those terms. Her first book was Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, years before the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

The first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe - Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, was established by Catherine II of Russia in 1764. The Commission of National Education in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, founded in 1777, considered the first Ministry of Education in history, was a central, autonomous body responsible for nationwide, secular and coeducational training. In the late 19th century, in what was then the Russian province of Poland, in response to the lack of higher training for women, the so-called Flying University was organized, where women were taught covertly by Polish scholars and academics. Its most famous student was Maria Skłodowska-Curie, better known as Marie Curie, who went on to win two Nobel Prizes.

Much education was channelled through religious establishments. Not all of these educated women only for marriage and motherhood; for example, Quaker views on women had allowed much equality from the foundation of the denomination in the mid-17th century. The abolitionist William Allen and his wife Grizell Hoare set up the Newington Academy for Girls in 1824, teaching an unusually wide range of subjects from languages to sciences.

Actual progress in institutional terms, for secular education of women, began in the West in the 19th century, with the founding of colleges offering single-sex education to young women. These appeared in the middle of the century. The Princess: A Medley, a narrative poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is a satire of women's education, still a controversial subject in 1848, when Queen's College first opened in London. Emily Davies campaigned for women's education in the 1860s, and founded Girton College in 1869, as did Anne Clough found Newnham College in 1875. Progress was gradual, and often depended on individual efforts - for example, those of Frances Lupton, which led to the founding of the Leeds Girls' High School in 1876. W. S. Gilbert parodied Tennyson's poem and treated the themes of women's higher education and feminism in general with The Princess in (1870) and Princess Ida in 1883.

Once women began to graduate from institutions of higher education, there steadily developed also a stronger academic stream of schooling, and the teacher training of women in larger numbers, principally to provide primary education. Women's access to traditionally all-male institutions took several generations to become complete.

Educational reform

The interrelated themes of barriers to education and employment continued to form the backbone of feminist thought in the 19th century, as described, for instance by Harriet Martineau in her 1859 article "Female Industry" in the Edinburgh Journal. Despite the changes in the economy, the position of women in society had not greatly improved and unlike Frances Power Cobbe, Martineau did not support the emerging call for the vote for practical reasons.

Slowly the efforts of women like Emily Davies and the Langham group (under Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon) started to make inroads. Queen's College (1848) and Bedford College (1849) in London started to offer some education to women, and by 1862 Davies was establishing a committee to persuade the universities to allow women to sit for the recently established (1858) Cambridge Local Examinations, with partial success (1865). A year later she published The Higher Education of Women. She and Bodichon founded the first higher educational institution for women, with five students, which became Girton College, Cambridge in 1873, followed by Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford in 1879. Bedford had started awarding degrees the previous year. Despite these measurable advances, few could take advantage of them and life for women students was very difficult.

As part of the continuing dialogue between British and American feminists, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the US to graduate in medicine (1849), lectured in Britain with Langham support. They also supported Elizabeth Garrett's attempts to assail the walls of British medical education against strong opposition; she eventually took her degree in France. Garrett's successful campaign to run for office on the London School Board in 1870 is another example of how a small band of determined women were starting to reach positions of influence at the level of local government and public bodies.

Catholic tradition

In the Roman Catholic tradition, concern for female education has expressed itself from the days of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, which in the 200s AD had courses for both men and women.[110] Later Church writers such as St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome all left letters of instruction for women in convents that they either founded or supported. In the medieval ages, several religious institutes were established with ministries addressing women's education. For medieval examples of convent schools, which are one form of such institutions, see the examples at the section on the medieval period. In the early modern period, this tradition was continued with the Ursulines (1535) and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (1849).[111] Contemporary convent schools are usually not restricted to Catholic pupils. Students in contemporary convent education may be boys (particularly in India).

See also

Historical literature

  • Bathsua Makin (1673), An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues
  • Davies, John Llewelyn (1879). Thirty years' progress in female education . London.
  • Anna Julia Cooper (1892), The Higher Education of Women
  • Alice Zimmern (1898), Renaissance of Girls' Education in England


 This article incorporates text from a free content work. License statement: Cracking the code: girls' and women's education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), UNESCO. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.


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  90. Schulenburg, Jane . Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. p. 98-99.
  91. Schulenburg (1998), pp. 100-101.
  92. "Einhard. Life of Charlemagne. Written before 840 AD. Chapter 19". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
  93. "Online English text". History.hanover.edu. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
  94. Women Humanists: Education for What?, pp. 48-81 in Feminism and Renaissance Studies (1999), edited by Lorna Hudson.
  95. Eileen Power, The Position of Women, p. 418, in The Legacy of the Middle Ages (1926), edited by G. C. Crump and E. F. Jacob.
  96. Riane Eisler (2007). The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. p. 72.
  97. J. K. Sowards, Erasmus and the Education of Women Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1982), pp. 77-89.
  98. See The Erasmus Reader (1990), edited by Erika Rummel, p. 88.
  99. Morris Marples, Princes in the Making: A Study of Royal Education (1965), p. 42.
  100. Gloria Kaufman, Juan Luis Vives on the Education of Women, Signs, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer, 1978), pp. 891-896. In print as The Instruction of a Christian Woman, edited by Virginia Walcott Beauchamp, Elizabeth H. Hageman and Margaret Mikesell, ISBN 978-0-252-02677-5, ISBN 0-252-02677-2.
  101. Translated in 1524, by Richard Hyrde; excerpt Archived 2007-06-25 at the Wayback Machine
  102. PDF, p. 9.
  103. Marples, p. 45.
  104. "About John Amos Comenius". Comenius Foundation. Comenius Foundation. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  105. Daniel Murphy, Comenius: A Critical Reassessment of his Life and Works (1995), Chapter IV, The Comenian Vision of Universal Education.
  106. Luther deutsch, p. 70, at Google Books
  107. Emil Sehling (ed.), Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhunderts. Vol 18: Rheinland-Pfalz I. Tübingen 2006, p. 406.
  108. Kenneth Charleton, Education in Renaissance England (1965), p. 209.
  109. Lawrence V. Ryan, Roger Ascham (1963) p. 144.
  110. Eusebius of Caesaria. Ecclesiastical History, Book VI, Chapter VIII, Paragraph I. Written before 340 AD
  111. Others are Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of the Holy of Jesus and Mary, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco.

Further reading

  • Acker, Sandra et al. eds. World Yearbook of Education 1984: Women and Education (1984)
  • Conway, Jill Kerr and Susan C. Bourque, eds. The Politics of Women's Education: Perspectives from Asia, Africa, and Latin America (1993)
  • Dilli, S. D. "A Historical Perspective on Gender Inequality and Development in the World Economy, c. 1850-2000." (PhD Dissertation, Utrecht U., 2015). online
  • Eisenmann, Linda. Historical Dictionary of Women's Education in the United States (1998) online
  • Harrigan, Patrick. "Women teachers and the schooling of girls in France: Recent historiographical trends." French Historical Studies (1998) 21#4: 593-610. online
  • Kelly, Gail P., ed. International Handbook of Women's Education (Greenwood Press, 1989).
  • LeVine, Robert A. "Women’s Schooling in Asia and Africa." African and Asian Studies 16.1-2 (2017): 128-138.
  • Mak, Grace C.L. Women, Education and Development in Asia: Cross-National Perspectives (2017).
  • Miller, Pavla. "Gender and education before and after mass schooling." in Teresa A. Meade and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds. A companion to gender history (2004): 129-145.
  • Purvis, June. A history of women's education in England (Open University, 1991).
  • Riordan, Cornelius. "The value of attending a women's college: Education, occupation, and income benefits." Journal of Higher Education 65.4 (1994): 486-510. in United States
  • Rogers, Rebecca. "Learning to be good girls and women: education, training and schools." in Deborah Simonton, ed., The Routledge History of Women in Europe since 1700 (2006). 111-151.
  • Rury, John L. Education and Women's Work: Female Schooling and the Division of Labor in Urban America, 1870-1930 (1991).
  • Seeberg, Vilma. "Girls’ schooling empowerment in rural China: Identifying capabilities and social change in the village." Comparative Education Review 58.4 (2014): 678-707.
  • Seeberg, Vilma, et al. "Frictions that activate change: dynamics of global to local non-governmental organizations for female education and empowerment in China, India, and Pakistan." Asia Pacific Journal of Education 37.2 (2017): 232-247.
  • Sheldon, Kathleen. Historical dictionary of women in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)
  • Sperling, Gene B., and Rebecca Winthrop, eds. What works in girls' education: Evidence for the world's best investment (Brookings Institution Press, 2015).
  • Tolley, Kim. The science education of American girls: A historical perspective (Routledge, 2014).
  • Tyack, David, and Elizabeth Hansot. Learning together: A history of coeducation in American public schools (1992).
  • Woody, Thomas. A History of Women's Education in the United States (2 vols. 1929)
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