Poverty and gender inequality, in addition to the lack of access to education, increase vulnerability to HIV infection. This is one of the main messages of the Gender Equality, HIV and Education booklet recently produced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The new publication stresses that tackling these issues is crucial to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other international commitments regarding education, human rights, equality and social justice. As part of a UNESCO series on good policy and practice in HIV and health education, the booklet includes discussion papers that explore the links between gender, HIV and education.
Findings reveal that efforts to improve education, gender and HIV-related issues to date have largely been implemented in parallel. There is increasing recognition, however, that these issues cannot be tackled in isolation. According to the booklet, there is a need to find ways to ensure that policies and programmes on gender equality, HIV and education are mutually reinforcing in order to maximize their impact.
By addressing topics of gender equality, poverty, the role of education, engagement between education and the wider community and young people’s leadership, the booklet aims to highlight experiences, innovative approaches and lessons learned, all in order to inform future policy and programming.
Barriers to education for girls
Gender inequalities are deeply entrenched in attitudes and behaviours, and the view that “the girl child is only for marriage” was found to be common among fathers interviewed during baseline research. The booklet quotes a view reinforced by a 13-year-old girl who commented that, “Being in school is a privilege according to our fathers, but not a right.”
Disparities against girls tend to be more extreme and persistent than those against boys. For example, more than 60% of adolescent girls are out of school in countries such as Central African Republic, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Pakistan and Tanzania, while in Senegal and Niger, the rate exceeds 70%.
Achieving an impact on gender equality and HIV will be possible if urgent action is taken to reduce existing inequalities in wealth and education, the booklet notes. Education has a key role to play in breaking some of the patterns that have been passed down through generations. Programmes that address the immediate barriers to school access, the most pervasive of which is poverty, can have an immediate and beneficial effect on access to education. This, the booklet concludes, will have positive benefits on promoting positive sexual health and preventing HIV infection for all young people.