Breaking barriers: why free and public education should be every woman’s right


The 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (March 6-17) kicks off at UN Headquarters in New York. Credits: UN Photo/Manuel Elias
  • Opinion by Dana Abed (Beirut)
  • Inter Press Service
  • The author is Global Campaigns Strategist for Gender Rights and Justice at Oxfam International.

But what should have been discussed were the basic issues of gender equality in education. With over 85% of the world living under austerity and 70% of countries cutting educational services, access to education for women and girls is devastated by the lack of government funding.

The gap between boys and girls when it comes to school enrollment remains large and quite concerning. Data consistently shows – especially in low- and middle-income countries – that girls from poor families are the children most likely to be out of school and stay out of school.

And the cost of education is one of the main barriers to entry – raising the question of affordability when it comes to technology integration.

While technological innovation has the potential to support instruction and education management, we cannot close our eyes to the realities of digital inequality, the possibility of higher fees and the privatization of education.

This is in addition to the existing risks associated with the use of technology, including online violence and abuse and the lack of digital protection for girls, further excluding girls from their right to education.

Austerity measures, cuts in public funds and privatization severely limit the goal of universal education. In a report published last November, Oxfam finds that austerity is a form of gender-based violence.

And during CSW67, we emphasized that access to public and quality education is fundamental to gender equality and the realization of the rights of women and girls.

Oxfam is not arguing that austerity measures are meant to hurt women and girls, but as policymakers design those policies they tend to ignore the specific needs of women and girls and turn a blind eye to the disproportionate impact those policies are having on our communities.

We came to this conclusion by collecting evidence from around the world showing that governments are not prioritizing the needs of women and girls. For example, more than 54% of countries planning to cut their social protection budgets in 2023 have minimal or no maternity and child support.

In their misguided attempts to balance their accounts against a looming global economic crisis, governments are treating women and girls as expendable commodities. Women, especially women from marginalized racial, ethnic, caste and age groups, are inherently discriminated against when it comes to economic and social opportunities and access to available public resources. Additional cuts to inequality-fighting public services mean these groups are the hardest hit.

Cuts in both the wage bill and public health and social protection – measures that women and their families rely on to survive – mean that women and girls bear the brunt of these cuts, as health, education, feeding the family, paying of bills, caring for children and the elderly all fall the heaviest on them.

For example, lowering the wages of the public workforce – especially in sectors such as health care where women represent 90% of the workforce or education where they represent 64% of the workforce – will have a direct impact on job security.

We should resist austerity and should instead properly tax the richest companies and people. A progressive tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could bring in $1.1 trillion more than the savings governments currently plan to make through their spending cuts.

Such funding would allow governments to apply feminist budgeting across all sectors that put women and girls in all their diversity at the center of policy making, including ensuring access to quality and public education.

Feminist movements have been pushing for bold alternatives to our neoliberal, capital-oriented economies for years, and Oxfam is raising its voice with them. The integration of technology in education should be viewed from an intersectional lens, taking into account barriers to entry for girls and low- and middle-income countries, and should not add additional costs to the education bill.

We must stand in solidarity with the women’s rights and feminist movements by demanding that our leaders stop peddling the gender-based violence of austerity as a solution and support more feminist progressive representation beyond identity politics.

We must resist creating societies that prioritize the needs of the most privileged at the expense of all others – and instead work to create communities and policies that reflect our diverse backgrounds and identities.

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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