Gender equality

How we work with governments and civil society to improve gender equality in lifelong learning

Gender equality is a global priority for UNESCO and inextricably linked to its efforts to promote the right to education and support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Within the Education 2030 Framework for Action, SDG 4 aims to ‘[e]nsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, and SDG 5 to ‘[a]chieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

The Education 2030 agenda recognizes that gender equality requires an approach that ‘ensures that girls and boys, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles, but are empowered equally in and through education’.

In many educational settings, large gender gaps continue to exist with regard to access, achievement and uptake, most often at the expense of girls, although boys are also at a disadvantage in specific regions. Poverty, geographical isolation, minority status, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, and traditional attitudes regarding the status and role of women, are among the many obstacles that prevent women and girls fully exercising their right to participate in, complete and benefit from education.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) works towards realizing gender equality in lifelong learning, with a particular focus on literacy programmes, adult learning and education (ALE) and gender equality in the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC).


UIL’s study on Literacy and Education for Sustainable Development and Women’s Empowerment analysed successful literacy programmes to establish the vital role played by literacy in promoting sustainable development and empowering women in the context of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

However, even today, women account for two thirds of the 750 million adults lacking basic literacy skills.  Hence, both the UNESCO strategy for literacy (2019–2025) and the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL) strategy coordinated by UIL include a goal focusing specifically on women and girls.

In order to ensure that literacy efforts are grounded in solid evidence, the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), of which UIL is a part, works to provide results disaggregated according to sex for SDG indicator 4.61 on youth and adult functional literacy and numeracy.

Furthermore, the UIL project, Action Research: Measuring Literacy Programme Participants’ Learning Outcomes (RAMAA), has worked with national teams from Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire and Togo to develop a sample plan for the measurement of literacy learning outcomes, which includes the collection of data according to gender and age.  

Adult learning and education (ALE)

The fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 4) highlights national measures targeting women in adult literacy and adult education programmes. Findings from the report support the need to increase learning opportunities for women. While the report shows that women’s participation in ALE has increased in 59 per cent of reporting countries since 2015, girls and women in some parts of the world still do not have sufficient access to education, notably vocational training, leaving them with few skills and poor chances of finding employment and contributing to the societies in which they live; this in turn represents an economic loss for their countries. UIL works towards ensuring that these women and girls are able to access the educational opportunities they need.

Learning cities

Through the Global Network of Learning Cities (UNESCO GNLC), UIL is committed to working towards the empowerment of women by developing the capacities of government and civil society partners. GNLC members have identified gender equality as a key topic for further exchange. In response, UIL and UNESCO’s Section on Education for Inclusion and Gender Equality have produced a video tutorial explaining how learning cities must prioritize gender equality in order to empower women through learning; eliminate gender-based discrimination; and foster equitable, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities. The video tutorial provides policy-makers, urban planners, lifelong learning practitioners and interested stakeholders with information and a step-by-step action plan so that they can integrate gender equality issues into education policies, plans and activities at the local level.