Central and South Asia have made the fastest progress in girls’ education over the last two decades.

Pockets of disadvantage exist. More needs to be done to ensure all girls complete a full cycle of basic education by 2030.

Paris : According to a paper released by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, globally 87% of girls are now completing primary school; an increase of almost 20 percentage points over the past 25 years. The fastest progress was in Central and South Asia, where just over half of all girls completed primary school in 1995, compared to 90% of the current generation.

The paper, entitled: An unfulfilled promise: 12 years of education for every girllooks at progress over the past two decades since the landmark commitments of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were made on gender equality. It finds that significant gains were made since 1995, particularly in Central and South Asia. While girls were at a disadvantage in Bangladesh in 1995, by the mid-2000s, they had surpassed boys. In India, more girls than boys are now enrolled in primary and secondary education.

Nepal has made particularly impressive progress, with the completion rate for girls estimated to have increased from 22% in 1995 to 81% in 2018, ultimately achieving gender parity. This achievement is related to significant improvements in services for sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, economic empowerment, and protection of women in the country.

Behind this progress, however, pockets of extreme disadvantage persist in the region. While Afghanistan has made large absolute gains both for girls and boys, with the completion rate for girls increasing from just 6% in 1995 to an estimated 50% in 2018, fewer than 80 girls for every 100 boys complete primary school in the country. The World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), jointly managed by the GEM Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, also shows that hardly any poor rural girls completed upper secondary school in Pakistan. Child marriage is still a problem in South Asia, with 29% of women married before the age of 18. In Bangladesh, 95% of the poorest rural women aged 20 to 49 in Rangpur division were married by age 18, compared with 41% of the richest urban women in Sylhet division.

“Just as progress was achieved over the last 25 years thanks to the region’s commitment in advancing girls’ education, there is an outstanding commitment to deliver a final push to ensure 12 years of education for all. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected disadvantaged girls and likely rolled back progress. It is time for a renewed focus that will galvanize efforts to achieve gender equality once and for all”, said Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report.

Barriers to education for adolescent girls include poverty, domestic chores, gender-based violence, child marriage, early pregnancy and inadequate menstrual hygiene management. Many of these barriers have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worrying that the paper finds that only one in five countries globally are reviewing policies on girls’ access to education as schools reopen.

This new paper is launched to coincide with the Paris Generation Equality Forum on June 30th, inviting financial commitments from participants to support quality education for girls and boys. It represents an opportunity to make concrete, ambitious and sustainable commitments towards achieving gender equality.

2021 is a critical year for investment in girls’ education on the back of the recent G7 Girls Education Declaration. This political commitment sets out the ambition to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reaching minimum proficiency in reading by the end of primary school in low- and lower-middle-income countries by 2026.

The report makes six recommendations to help focus planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring efforts in support of the process towards gender equality through education, for the new generation.

All girls should complete at least 12 years of education, and gender parity should be achieved in all levels of education and literacy in line with commitments made in SDG targets 4.1, 4.5 and 4.6.

UNESCO urges governments to invest into the following critical areas:


  1. Eliminate gender disparity in education access, participation and completion.
  2. Ensure balanced representation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study.
  3. Remove stereotypes and gender bias from teaching and learning materials.
  4. Make schools safe spaces for all girls and boys, free from gender-based violence.
  5. Commit to delivering comprehensive sexuality education at all education levels.
  6. Ensure balanced representation of women in education management and leadership positions.