PublicationsSystematic reviewsGirls' education and gender equality
Interventions to enhance girls’ education and gender equality

What do we want to know?

The central question of this review concerns the kind of interventions that are suggested by research evidence to lead to an expansion and improvement in girls’ education. It also considers evidence on the relationship between an expansion and improvement in girls’ education and a deepening of gender equality.

Who wants to know and why?

The review will inform policy in the UK Department for International Development. It will also be of interested to government, charitable and private organisations involved in policy making or the provision of education to girls in low-income countries.

What did we find?

  • The effectiveness of resource interventions depends on careful targeting of educationally under-resourced families, and thoughtful design of programmes to focus on girls most at risk. Complementary in-kind health interventions can enhance enrolment and lead to learning gains for both boys and girls.
  • The effectiveness of infrastructural interventions is enhanced when they are linked with processes associated with learning and teaching.
  • Interventions concerned with the distribution of resources and infrastructure were more likely to be associated with improvements in girls’ attendance, enrolment and grade attainment than with girls’ empowerment within school or broader gender equality outcomes.
  • It is important to have thriving teachers who are adequately supported and trained to enhance girls’ schooling. Sufficient resources for gender mainstreaming can help embed a concern with gender in educational institutions. Effective interventions are associated with a combination of different approaches to enhancing quality, such as: explicit concern with gender equality in teaching, learning and management; attention to curriculum, learning materials and pedagogical practices for schools and classrooms; and close attention to local context. Successful interventions associated with institutional change and policy within the education sector may also impact on gender equality outcomes more broadly.
  • Interventions concerned with shifting gender norms and enhancing inclusion, for example, by increasing participation in decision making by the marginalised, are under-researched and under-resourced.
  • The relationship between changes in girls’ education and developments in legislation, regulation and opinion formation is under-researched, as are links between girls’ education and empowerment outcomes.

What are the implications?

The review suggests that there is a need for an integrated research programme in these connected areas combining quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods studies, explicitly filling the research gaps identified in relation to the three kinds of interventions, their connections with each other and their relationship with gender equality. There is a need to ensure that research is based on clear research questions, methodologies and analytical frameworks, and that these are clearly documented in the literature produced. Also, researchers located in the global South are under-represented. This suggests the importance of developing policy which aims to enhance research capacity, publication and dialogue on girls’ education and gender equality with researchers located in the global South.

How did we get these results?

A Theory of Change (ToC) was developed that drew on the understanding that girls’ education and gender equality are affected by processes within and beyond schools. Search terms were developed from the review question, and supplemented by terms relating to a small number of focus countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Peru, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi and Bangladesh), though significant amounts of information were found only for Malawi and Bangladesh. This was supplemented by website searches, specialist contacts and reviewers’ own knowledge of resources. The resulting studies were assessed for relevance and quality, and 177 were included for review.

This report should be cited as: Unterhalter E, North A, Arnot M, Lloyd C, Moletsane L, Murphy-Graham E, Parkes J, Saito M (2014) Interventions to enhance girls’ education and gender equality: education rigorous literature review. London: Department for International Development.

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