Over the first two days of the 4th Women Deliver conference, which is focused primarily on improving women and girls’ health, there has been strong recognition and continuous discussion of the vital roles education plays in empowering women and girls and ensuring gender equality. From the ministerial meeting to the plenary sessions, side events to coffee breaks, there is a buzz about education going around in Copenhagen’s spacious Bella Centre. Many of the stories are personal – women and young people speaking of how their own education brought them to this conference, to speak and learn alongside over 5,500 other delegates from around the world.
The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, at Women Deliver for the first time, was proud to host a well-received side event that explored how the education and health sectors can better work together to achieve gender equality. Given that the focus of the 2016 GEM Report is on creating sustainable futures for all and that ithighlights the intersectoral relationships between education and other sectors, it was exciting to share some of our initial findings with a new audience.
Aaron Benavot, GEM Report Director, delivered a keynote presentation Moving beyond gender parity: Where are we with gender equality in education, which outlined the ways that education systems can both reproduce and reduce gender stereotypes. Despite great progress towards gender parity in education since 2000 , ensuring equal access to school for girls and young people has not systematically translated into greater gender equality in economic activity, political representation, or employment. Substantive gender equality, not just gender parity, underpins the Sustainable Development Agenda, and the panel discussion following Aaron’s presentation focused on how health and education sectors can better work together to achieve this.
Moderated by Geoffrey Adlide from Global Partnership for Education, the panel discussed the benefits of holistic development approaches, and most importantly – how that can be done through policies, planning and programming. For example, schools can serve as vital infrastructure for the delivery of health interventions, such as school meals, deworming and immunization campaigns.
Toyin Saraki, Founder-President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, challenged Finance Ministers to think of investments in education as long term cost savings, not expenditures, in their budgets. The Wellbeing Foundation is a pan-African organization that has primarily been focused on empowering women through health interventions. Through the side event Mrs. Saraki became so convinced of the vital connections between health and education that she promised to ask Nigeria’s Minister of Health, who is prioritizing building health clinics so everyone in Nigeria has access to basic health care, to build schools alongside them for greater impact.
School based interventions have been shown not just to improve health and education, but also gender outcomes and social protection. However, integrated programmes can be challenging to implement. Helga Fogstad, Director, Department for Global Health, Education and Research at NORAD argued that while there are numerous co-benefits to health and education interventions, and coordinated programming can help to address the myriad barriers that women and girls face in realizing their basic rights, trying to align prioritization, planning and implementation across sectors can place greater burdens on already overstretched institutions. Investments are usually done through sectors because governments prefer using budget lines per sector to disperse funds Ms. Fogstad argued that multisectoral budgets and fully integrated programmes are not always necessary for multisectoral and integrated results.
Ingibjorg Gisladottir, UN Women’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Representative to Turkey, described a Joint Programme run by UN Women, UNESCO and UNFPA set up to empower adolescent girls and young women through education. The joint programme on reducing gender gaps, which has been implemented in 6 countries and will be rolled out in 20 nations, aims to improve the quality and relevance of education; raise awareness at all levels to create a favorable environment for gender equality; strengthen links between health and education sectors; and improve gender and education data.
The 4th Women Deliver conference was an exciting opportunity for the GEM Report to reach analysts and advocates in other sectors, who are committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment. With the launch of this year’s report launch scheduled for 6 September we look forward to continuing to share evidence based arguments of the transformative power of education with new audiences.