SDG Series - Towards Gender Equality In Higher Education


After the millennium development goals that were to be attained in 2015, the UN member states agreed on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that were to act as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. MSM highly values the SDGs within its institutional capacity-building projects as well as our degree and executive programs. With the importance of the SDGs in mind, we have started the SDG series – ‘Exploring Pathways and Innovation Towards Meeting the SDG’s.’ In this article, we dive into the topic of women's equality and empowerment in Higher Education. SDG 5 “Gender Equality” is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Stay up to date! Register here and you will receive our latest SDG articles straight in your inbox.

Goal number 5 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is Women’s equality and empowerment. The goal aims to ensure that women and girls everywhere have equal rights and opportunities and be able to live free of violence and discrimination. This is a call to eliminate the forms of discrimination against human rights and all its root causes for women both in private and public spheres. The United Nations intends to attain this goal by “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes“.

Education can be termed as a great equalizer as access opens new opportunities. Therefore, the key to achieving SDG 5 is ensuring that the education systems are reformed to ensure gender equality. Currently, there are significant gender inequalities. When celebrating the international women’s day in 2021, the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) published a report that highlighted the representation of women in the education sector. They indicated that in 2018, 43% of teachers in tertiary education and just 30% of the world’s university researchers were women. More so, the studies reported that there is a high misrepresentation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with less than 25% of the STEM students being women worldwide. Women are still under-represented in senior faculty and higher education decision-making bodies in many countries. This fact is not explained only by women’s history of lower access to education, but “it is also often a sign of institutional cultures that are neither inclusive nor geared towards broader social and cultural change for greater gender equality … conventional faculty recruitment processes that reward linear, full-time, uninterrupted academic trajectories contribute to women’s under-representation in senior academic positions”, the report says.

Globally, gender parity is at 68% as of 2021, depicting a 38% gender gap (Global Gender Report, 2021). To close the gap and attain full parity, the report indicates that it will take 135.6 years! Regionally, Western Europe is leading with 77.6% followed by North America with 76.4%. The bottom two are South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa with 62.7% and 61.6% respectively. Among the east African community, Rwanda ranks first in East Africa and 7th globally, closing a gender gap of 80.5%. In terms of Educational Attainment, the gender gap is almost closed as it stands at 95%, nonetheless, Sub-Saharan Africa lags, as it has only attained 84.5% of this gap. Gender parity has been adopted at national level as part of the larger efforts to implement actions and also track SDGs. And governments now have SDGs studies and reporting which can help in designing and improving policy. However macro level actions needed to be complemented by micro level actions. Analysis of gender inequalities and their drivers at this level can provide some nuances that can help sharpen policies at macro level and more specifically support implementers at higher education level design and implement gender strategies.

This newsletter seeks to capture these two perspectives with regard to gender inequality in higher education. In this way, we can get insights to help inform actions and policies to help accelerate the attainment of SDG  5. This report provides insights into Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Mozambique and Ethiopia, where the Maastricht School of Management (MSM) is working.


We first reviewed the gender policy documents, initiatives and studies in the countries MSM is working with a specific focus on higher education. This provided an overview of the status, including challenges and actions being taken.

Micro-level Data
MSM experiences interacting with gender issues at the higher education level to further elaborate on the challenges and actions needed. Gender is a running theme in many of the projects MSM is running. As part of MSM project work, we have conducted training and studies to analyze and understand the level of gender equality and women empowerment in higher education institutions. These activities have provided a number of reports that were analyzed and synthesized. The synthesis explores gender equality and diversity in various organizations; the challenges faced and actions and key achievements in the institutions in terms of gender equality and diversity.

Findings: Review of policies and actions

The Beijing Platform for action is a significant framework globally on the verge of attaining gender equality and calling upon governments and other partners for the rectification of what is commonly referred to as ‘women’s bills of rights’ by championing women’s rights. After which, several policy frameworks have been adopted, including the SADC Gender and Development Declaration of 1997, Maputo Protocol, and the African Union Agenda 2063 in Africa. Each country has further plunged in and adapted these frameworks in the various sectors.

In the global gender report (2021), Rwanda was among the top countries in Africa that have reduced the gender gap. This significant change is anchored on policies and plans about which the government has been strategic. The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2) and Education Sector Policy have identified gender as a cross-cutting issue. Vision 2020 is a significant document for Rwanda’s people and their economic recovery and development since the genocide. Significant strides have been made ever since. In the education sector, the girl’s education policy is significant in ensuring gender equality and reducing the gender parity gap between the boy and girl child. As part of the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP), the policy has a distinct budget line to support specific initiatives to address barriers facing girls.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution is a significant document for the country and gender equality as it brought in recognition of women’s rights as human rights. The Constitution 2010 recognizes the dignity, social, economic, and cultural rights, including the right to education, housing and right to health, including reproductive health care. The gain for women in the constitution includes equality in marriage, employment, inheritance and leadership, with 33% as the critical mass preferred for women leadership. The African Call is to have 50:50 gender representation in leadership; however, the one-third rule is a step in the right direction. Moreso, the Kenyan  Ministry of education adopted the TVET ACT 2013, which saw an increase in the number of institutions and resources allocated to them, increasing the number of females enrolling. More so, the country has several policies and strategic plans for gender equality and these include the Second Medium Term Plan (MTPII), the Sessional Paper No. 14 of 2012, the Basic Education of 2013, and the National Education Sector Plan (NESP) 2013-2018, the education and training sector policy. In Ethiopia, All government institutions are required to address women’s issues in policies, laws, and development programs and projects. The Key national policies and plans concerning women include the National Women’s Policy 1993, the 2006 National Action Plan on Gender Equality, Women’s Development Plan, National Action Plan for Harmful Traditional Practices 2013 and the Women’s Development Plan of 2017.

The United Republic of Tanzania amended the constitution to provide an increase in women’s representation based on women members of Parliament. The Tanzania Development Vision 2025 emphasizes the county’s commitment to promoting gender equality in all spheres and The National Employment Policy and the Zanzibar Economic Empowerment Policy (2019) encourage women and girls to participate in male-dominated trades. The Inheritance Act (1963), The Lands Act (1999), and The Village Lands Act (1999).encourages female land ownership. Gender is integrated into the National Five-Year Development Plan (2021/22- 2025/26), The National Education Act of 1978 (Mainland) and the Zanzibar Education Act of 1982, and the National Plan of Action for Violence Against Women and Children (NPA-VAWC), and the 2016 revisions to The Law of Marriage Act (1971).

Like other countries, the constitution of Ethiopia (FDRE) recognizes the need for gender equality. The strategy documents of the Ethiopia education policy; the Education Sector Development Program (ESDP V) policy, recognizes the need for gender-free bias by ensuring women’s access to education and the presence of female role models as teachers, headteachers, and managers, encouraging girls to join non-traditional fields in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes; and continuing affirmative action in Teacher Training Institute (TTIs), Teacher Training College (TTCs), and other higher educational institutions. Other sectoral policy documents in Ethiopia that recognized the vulnerability of women and their need for empowerment include the Ethiopian Water Resources Management Policy of 1999, the Ethiopian Water Sector Strategy of 2001, the health policy, the National Plan of Action for Gender- Equality (NAP-GE) and the National Ethiopian Women’s Policy that was enacted in 1993.

MSM Synthesis

The results from our gender mainstreaming training in Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Mozambique and assessment in Ethiopia reveal the same gender disparities. In Ethiopia, the proportion of female students is still low in both enrolment and completion in all the colleges, and female student dropout is higher than for male students. The performance of most female students (except for a few), particularly in theoretical exams, is weaker than male students. When admitting students to the colleges over which the colleges lack control, a gender balance is not pursued, and gender-disaggregated data are not widely presented. In the teaching staff, the females form a minority in all agricultural TVET institutions, in the leadership, out of the seven colleges, only one dean was a female.

The case is not very different in Tanzania, as in one of our project institutes the gender divide is as follows; 52% men and 48% women (14% supporting staff, i.e. tutors and lectures). Students: 58.3% males and 41.7% females. At a research institute, the representation of women is 37% and men are 63%, while students enrollment is 35% female students and 65% is male students as the selection of students mainly goes through a Pass mark.

In Indonesia, four educational institutions were the subject of assessment and the proportion of female students who drop out of school is higher than male students. These dropouts are due to marriage and financial constraints. This condition is exacerbated by the lack of availability of dormitories for female students.

In Sierra Leone, the water Hygiene and Sanitation WASH/Health sector seems to have an equal representation of both genders in terms of staffing and qualification in the ratio of 1:1, while the energy sector shows a big disparity of 1:9 ratio for the female to male representation and 1:16 in terms of qualifications. As much as this number is equal, it is worth noting that this was not specific to the WASH industry alone but to the entire Health sector, which might have skewed the numbers. For example, it is revealed for the WASH industry that the most difficult to recruit occupational areas were: plumbers and pipefitters, carpenters, joiners, bricklayers and related workers. More so, most reports reveal that women mostly work in the health sector.

In Kenya, neither the enrollment of students to the institution nor the employment of teaching staff is equal. In one of the projects colleges, for example, 45% of women and 55% of the male are enrolled in the college, while the ratio of male to female staff is 2:3. The main challenge in enrollment across the TVET in the various countries is accommodation where the men’s hostels are more compared to the female hostels; thus, even at admission, more men are admitted.

The challenges

Amenities: Challenges of girls getting pregnant with no places to nurse the children making it difficult for the students to continue with their studies. In Kenya, for example, the participants reported a lack of specified breastfeeding facilities (Creche) at the institutions.

Agricultural machinery is not always gender-friendly, as such, students tend to steer away from doing such courses, while others do not want to use such machinery. There are still stereotypes about the kind of jobs that men can do and what women cannot do. TVET’s highlighted several key barriers to female participation as follows:

Attitudinal barriers/Social mindset: these include issues such as early marriage and household responsibilities; young women are limited by and conservative social mindsets, such as the bias for males to be considered for these types of jobs more than women. Young women sometimes face teasing for pursuing fields traditionally considered as male.

Financial constraints: As with many developing nations, young people, especially women, struggle to support their tertiary education, including pursuing TVET careers.

Lack of safe accommodation/hostel facilities: Due to the imbalance in these institutions (mostly male-dominated), safety is a big concern. Most institutions have more accommodation facilities for males than females. This is a big challenge for the ladies who may be attending the institution from a different locality where a daily commute is impossible. When they rent outside the institution, the safety concerns can be as severe as sexual harassment, which deters young women from taking risks. Male students can find accommodation around the location of the training centers and do not suffer from the same safety concerns as the female students.

Inappropriate training environment: Like the above, but more focused on the actual learning environment, female students are also looking for safety, respect and equality in the classroom. Many female students complain about the lack of separate washrooms and the few female instructors as well.

Information and knowledge gaps: Unless there is a concerted effort made by TVET institutions to reach out to girls with special promotional measures, the likelihood that they will hear about programmes is small. Many girls lack the same access to information and knowledge as their male counterparts.

Low prospects for decent work: young women want some sort of assurance that their school enrolment will translate into viable employment and/or means to generate income independently, such as starting a business. Female students frequently feel locked into courses that they think are not highly productive.

Low self-confidence and fear of challenging the status quo: Lack of self-confidence and fear has made many young women not pursue their dreams. Thus, you find women conforming to tradition and beliefs and more so because confronting the status quo comes with labelling. To combat this influence, careful guidance coupled with counselling and empowerment to demonstrate their full potential to grow is needed.


To handle the challenges of gender inequality, then certain resources such as policy strategies and advocacy need to be availed for gender mainstreaming. Simple steps as training on gender and having a gender office; with funds allocated for gender mainstreaming in institutions, could go a long way.

Most institutions lack gender structures to facilitate gender mainstreaming activities, and institutions, which have gender structures, lack adequate resources and capacitated officers to effectively undertake activities that help increase gender equality. As such situation reported is that:

  • Staff have insufficient capacity, skills and knowledge of mainstream gender and to conduct their programme in a gender-sensitive manner
  • No training is conducted.
  • Many institutions do not have a gender officer or expert in place, and those that have an office, they have a challenge of insufficiency of knowledge and or resources.
  • Lack of awareness among the leaders makes them ignorant of gender mainstreaming and this is exacerbated by the few numbers of women in leadership thus, decisions tend to favour men and reinforce the stereotype.
  • Recruitment and student admissions has been reported to be the area where gender inequality occurs as this is done in terms of grade done by joint admission boards, yet most institutions have sex-disaggregated data for staff and students’ profiles, however, there is no practice of using these data in recruitment plans, staff development and training

Many male and female students struggle with the inadequacy of facilities, but in most cases, it affects women more. This includes working spaces and transport facilities and adequate infrastructure such as efficient internet access. If women have to work or travel after working hours, and stay late in campus to use internet, their risk is disproportionately high. Although the exact rate is unknown, respondents from all institutions argue that gender-based violence is prevalent both within their respective campus and in the surrounding community. The institutions lack efficient and effective case management procedures and no measures have been taken to prevent or avoid these incidences. Furthermore, access to sexual and reproductive health rights was identified as a major concern in a number of institutions, affecting women the most.

In Ethiopia, women have less access to and control over resources and benefits than men and limited access to training, extension, and land. Indonesia- the inadequate affirmative action policy for the poor in the form of scholarships that are easily accessible, especially by women.

In Kenya, the reported achievement with the Orange Knowledge Programs (OKP) was that gender mainstreaming had been inculcated in the curriculum in the institution of higher learning, they had formed a gender committee, had a policy on gender equality and on sexual harassment, and importantly that the staff were receiving training on gender equality and empowerment.

This was not different in South Africa, where sexual and gender policy had be prioritized, however, during the time of training, some colleges still reported not having a gender and sexual harassment policy in place yet.

In Tanzania, the progress reported was that a gender unit of 7 members was created to carb gender issues whose focal person is well known by the institutional management, they had a gender strategy in place and institutions are considerate with gender-sensitive infrastructure.

In Mozambique, efforts are made to increase women’s access to education through regulations, gender mainstreaming policies, gender-based budgeting, and affirmative programs and activities.


Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world. It allows us to better understand the world in which we live and through education, we have become thoughtful about what happens around us. Educating girls has been said to be the most effective way for economic productivity in a country. However, women and girls worldwide are faced with challenges that, making them unable to access or complete education. In sub-Saharan Africa, 61% of girls never finish their secondary education; of course, this translates to not furthering education and lower-income earned. For example, in Kenya, the mean wage for a postgraduate is 74,711KES which is sixteen times more compared to 4,553 KES for a person with zero education (Tattani & Okadia, 2021). Education gives one better chance and choices in the future as well as their health and wellbeing. A study carried out by UNICEF (2021) in India indicated that children born to illiterate mothers had twice the likelihood of infant mortality compared to children whose mothers had received primary education.

Education and technical training and vocational school aims to equip students with skills and knowledge that are needed to be involved in professional careers and a lifetime or learning (Jattani & Okadia, 2022). This makes it critical and pivotal for gender mainstreaming. Reason being, the skills learnt are implemented in life. A key stride with the OKP project is the inculcation of gender in the curriculum in the institutions. Cheruiyot and Munyi (2019), in their study, reported the main impediments to the implementation of sustainable gender equity interventions as inadequate funding for the activities geared towards enhancing gender equity, negative attitudes towards issues of gender, lack of gender awareness among students, staff and institution managers, and lack of a clear gender policy guidelines.

Incorporating the topic into the curriculum creates awareness of gender bias from a personal and societal level and thus, one is able to advocate and speak out from the point of knowledge. Awareness of the bias is eye-opening to starting up women’s movements to campaign for their rights. In fact, Semela et al. (2017) recommend that the most important step that women can take towards attaining gender equality and equity; is to be willing and able to take an active feminist stance in their fight against marginalization! But how will they stand if they are not aware of the bias?

The challenges highlighted in the study are similar to what is reported in many studies (Semela et al., 2017; Cheruiyot & Munyi, 2019; Jattani & Okadia, 2022) that cultural and religious practices, inadequate policy guidelines and effective implementation, poverty, and lack of community awareness hinder gender equality.

The disparity is that gender offices in educational institutes could be established, but the office does not have funds to propagate the agenda, thus making it an ‘in paper’ implementation, whereas the office has no footing. However, it can be said that just policies are not enough, to make a change,  enforcement is needed. This enforcement starts with policies and strict guidelines together with creating awareness between men and women and micro actions that will help people understand the gender issue better and help drive change.

At the most elementary level, simple measures that will support women and girls manage their expected societal roles of motherhood while at the same time navigating their education and career will play a major role in gender mainstreaming. Providing amenities such as separate washrooms tailored to women’s needs, a crèche and day-care services for women with young children. This will enhance women’s confidence and concentration in their education when their social challenges are taken care of. Such measures would be seen as a positive first step towards more serious reforms leading to the gradual elimination of the patriarchal institutional culture (Semela et al., 2017).

Impact of COVID-19
In as much as COVID-19 affected both boys and girls, women were disproportionately more affected than men as the burden of domestic chores and teenage pregnancies were on the rise. This means that a large percentage of these girls affected were not able to go back to school even when the schools ended up being opened later. Children, especially from poor families, were hindered from receiving a quality education compared to their counterparts who had the privilege of continuing with the school via online measures. The underprivileged did not have the necessary resources (such as internet, smartphones, laptops, electricity etc) and were not able to achieve this. In some countries, such as Kenya, the media (television, radio, and online) was as a point of continuous learning, but others could not access it. More so, the girl child has further been exposed to sexual violence, child marriage, and teenage pregnancies. Schools have always played a role in reducing their exposure to such activities.


In the past 5years MSM has been implementing the Orange Knowledge program projects in various countries with gender as a key component. The aasssment reveals that gender mainstreaming is yet to be implemented at the grassroots in institutions of higher learning. As such, several trainings on gender have been done and progress has been made. Institutions have incorporated gender in the curriculum like; the case of kenya, gender offices have been erected, and institution policies have been formulated. A step towards the right direction in reducing the gender parity gap.

Gender equality is a great way of empowering societies and the benefits of educating girls has ripple effects and trickles down to a healthy society at large! Policies have been formulated and strategy plans drawn both at global, regional, coun,try and institutionlevels, but there still are big parity gaps. The societal stereotypes, mindsets, gender roles and beliefs play a critical role and seem to be core in closing the gender gap. More awareness needs to be raised for people to understand their biases and change their attitudes. Women and girls are still at risk, especially when the case of gender-based violence is considered. Lack of appropriate infrastructure, such as hostels for female students, hinders them from accessing education. In as much as COVID-19 affected both boys and girls, women were disproportionately more affected than men as the burden of domestic chores and teenage pregnancies were on the rise. This means that a large percentage of these girls affected were not able to go back to school even when the schools ended up being opened later.

Cheruiyot, S., & Munyi, F. (2019). Gender Inclusion in TVET: An Examination of Sustainable Interventions In Selected TVET Institutions In Kenya. International Journal Of Science, Technology, Education And Management Research, 4(III), 39-55. Retrieved from /index.php/IJGRC/article/view/41

Global Gender Gap Report 2021. (2021). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from World Economic Forum:

Jattani D.& Okadia F.,(2022) Exploring the Global Gender Gap Index 2021: Kenya’s Policy Choices. Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub And The Institute Of Economic Affairs

Frances J. (2018) Gender Profile Of The TVET Sector Submitted to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority I. ILLO GAD

Semela, T., Bekele, H., & Abraham, R. (2017). Navigating the river Nile: the chronicle of female academics in Ethiopian higher education. Gender and Education, 1–19. doi:10.1080/09540253.2017.1400522 

UNICEF. (2021). Girls’ education: A lifeline to development. Retrieved from UNICEF:

Previous articles
SDG Series - Deploying Renewable Energy – What are Higher Learning Institutions Doing?

SDG series - Climate Smart Agriculture in Eastern Africa – perceptions and practices

SDG series -Tackling the Youth Employment Challenge