Education & Human Rights

Education and Human Rights

photo_23498_20130216Education and human rights

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 26 states:

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Education is a fundamental human right for all. The right to education also enables the enjoyment of other human rights. Human rights education (HRE), formal education and informal education are ways to protect and reinforce human rights.


Secondary school

Every year of secondary school the number of girls enrolled compared to boys decreases by 8%. In certain geographic regions, the gender gap in secondary education is very high. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, only 6% of countries have achieved gender parity in secondary education.

Ensuring access to secondary education is important for both girls and boys. However, gender-sensitive approaches to increasing participation in secondary education are necessary. Often, girls are denied secondary education for very different reasons than boys. In developing countries where this gender gap is highest, when a family’s resources are limited, girls are usually forced to stay home because of strong gender norms favouring boys’ education. Girls, rather than boys, are expected to stay home to fulfil household obligations or are forced to marry as children. Inadequate sanitation facilities in schools and negative classroom environments where girls face violence, exploitation and corporal punishment further restrict their participation in secondary education.

Despite these challenges, when girls do complete secondary education, they are better positioned to get a job, have better health and have fewer children.


Tertiary education

Whilst in many OECD countries more women attend university than men, in developing countries, there is still a wide gender gap in tertiary education. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 3% of countries have gender equality in tertiary education. Tertiary education is vital for accessing high-skilled jobs and ensuring women have the autonomy to choose their career path. Similar barriers to tertiary education exist for women as in secondary education; these are even more prohibitive in tertiary education, since in many cultures women are forced into marriage and bear children before they can begin tertiary education.

In OECD countries, the gender gaps in certain types of tertiary education should also be addressed. Women represent only 32% of tertiary students with a degree in science, engineering, manufacturing and construction in OECD countries. However, a recent study in the US has found that women in STEM earned 33% more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs. Ensuring gender equality across different disciplines in tertiary education will bring diversity to workplaces, increase women’s participation in all sectors of the economy and allow women to access higher paid, high-skilled jobs


Indigenous and remote communities

Globally, in rural settings, only 39% of girls attend secondary school, compared to 45% of boys. In rural areas, education represents the primary avenue for young people to achieve mobility, as well as an important means by which a community can improve its standard of living, health outcomes and productivity. Education programmes in rural settings must work to increase the overall participation of girls and boys in education, and must address this large gender gap in order to achieve sustainable progress.


Continuing education

In the context of rapidly changing industries, continuing education is important to keep up to date with new developments, skills and technologies. Continuing education offers opportunities for professional development and career satisfaction. Whilst in many fields it is required, it can be an important component to success in all industries. Continuing education programs should be flexible to accommodate work schedules as well as other commitments, and should aim to cater for the many responsibilities of both women and men with families.

GWI identifies several barrier that hinder women from accessing quality continuing education, including stigma associated with disability, ageism towards older employees, domestic responsibilities, economic barriers and a lack of technological infrastructure.



One form of non-traditional education is the acquiring of knowledge and skills through learning methods that extend beyond formal means, institutions and sectors. Advancements in technology have yielded several contemporary methods of learning including through distance-learning and online courses. Non-traditional education aims to promote the participation, integration and balancing of the male and female workforce across all sectors. Barriers for women in pursuing non-traditional education include domestic responsibilities, lack of legislation and certain traditional and cultural norms.

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