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Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015


The ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary or tertiary education, or Gender Parity Index, is the ratio between the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of girls and that of boys, for each level of education.

Primary education, according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97), normally consists of programmes designed on a unit or project basis to give pupils a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics along with an elementary understanding of other subjects such as history, geography, natural science, social science, art and music.

Secondary education is divided by ISCED97 into lower secondary education and upper secondary education. Lower secondary education is generally designed to continue the basic programmes of the primary level but with more subject-focused teaching, requiring more specialized teachers for each subject area. In upper secondary education, instruction is generally organized even more along subject lines and teachers typically need an even higher or more subject-specific qualification.

Tertiary education is defined by ISCED97 as programmes with an educational content more advanced than what is offered at the secondary level. The first stage is composed of largely theoretically based programmes intended to provide sufficient qualifications for gaining entry into advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements; and programmes that are generally more practical, technical and/or occupationally specific. The second stage of tertiary education comprises programmes devoted to advanced study and original research, which lead to the award of an advanced research qualification.

The Gender Parity Index (GPI) is another term used to describe the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary or tertiary education. The GPI is calculated based on the Gross Enrolment Ratio for a given level of education.

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is the total enrolment in a specific level of education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the eligible official school-age population corresponding to the same level of education in a given school year.

Method of computation
The GPI is calculated by dividing the female GER by the male GER for a given level of education. To calculate the GER it is first necessary to determine the official school age population for each level of education. Then, the number of students enrolled in each level of education is divided by the official school age population for that level of education, and the result is multiplied by 100. GERs for boys and girls are calculated separately.


Note: For example, if the entrance age for primary education is 7 years with a duration of 6 years, then is (7-12) years.

This method requires information on the structure of education (that is, the theoretical entrance ages and durations of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education), enrolments in each level of education and the populations of the age groups corresponding to the given levels of education. The age group for tertiary education usually corresponds to a five- year duration following the theoretical completion age of upper secondary education. Separate figures for boys and girls are required.


Gender parity in access to and participation in schooling is the first step toward gender equality in education. Eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education improves women’s health and well-being, position in family and society, economic opportunities and returns, and political participation. A mother’s level of education has also proved to have a strong positive effect on her children’s education and family health. Women’s education is also an important determinant of economic development. This indicator of equality of educational opportunities is a measure of both fairness and efficiency.

A GPI of 1 indicates parity between the sexes. A GPI lower than 1 indicates a disparity in favour of boys, that is, a disadvantage for girls; whereas a GPI greater than 1 indicates a disparity in favour of girls, that is, a disadvantage for boys.


Data on school enrolment are usually recorded by the ministry of education or derived from surveys and censuses. If administrative data are not available, household survey data may be used, although household surveys usually measure self-reported attendance rather than enrolment as reported by schools. Also, household survey data may not be comparable between surveys. A serious problem with household survey data is also the inaccurate recording of pupils’ ages, depending on the time of the year that the survey is conducted. Later in the school year, some younger children may appear to be of primary school age when in fact they are not. It can also happen that older children appear to be of secondary school age when in fact they were of primary age at the start of the school year.

Among international surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and sometimes also Living Standards Measurement Studies and Core Welfare Indicators Questionnaire Surveys in Africa provide school attendance data.

Data should be organized according to the levels of education defined in ISCED97 to ensure international comparability of resulting indicators.

Population estimates used in the denominator of the Gross Enrolment Ratio can be obtained from population censuses and vital statistics registration. The use of different population estimates in the denominator is often at the origin of differences between national and international data for this indicator, as international population estimates generally differ from those available at the national level.


Rural and urban differences are important for the analysis of gender differences in school enrolment, because of significant differences in school facilities, available resources, demand on children’s time for work, and drop-out patterns that affect girls and boys differently. It is also important to consider disaggregation by geographical areas and social or ethnic groups since gender differences may be more pronounced in some groups. Disaggregation should focus on identifying marginalized populations, particularly those living in remote areas or belonging to minorities.

Most countries collect data disaggregated by sex, age, region, type of school, etc. Some countries however proceed with systematic data collection only for total enrolment, and disaggregations at the national level are extrapolated from data collected from a sample of schools. These breakdowns allow policy makers to target the population sub-groups where gender differences are more pronounced. Although administrative data cannot generally distinguish between urban and rural enrolment, household surveys may allow disaggregating data for urban and rural areas.


Caution should be exercised in interpreting trends towards gender parity. For example, the indicator cannot help determine whether improvements in the ratio reflect increases in girls’ school participation (desirable) or decreases in boys’ participation (undesirable). Also, it also does not reveal whether those enrolled in school complete the relevant education cycles or, whether the overall level of participation in education is low or high.

Finally, the difference between the value of the GPI and the value 1—representing perfect parity—does not mean the same thing for girls and boys. For example, a GPI of 0.5—0.5 units away from parity—indicates that the value of the female component of the indicator (that is, the female GER) is half the value of the male component (that is, the male GER). By contrast, a GPI of 1.5—also 0.5 units away from parity—indicates that the value of the male component of the indicator is two-thirds of the value of the female component (not half). Consequently, a disadvantage for boys in terms of gender parity appears more drastic than a disadvantage for girls.

It is therefore important to supplement the analysis of trends in GPIs with analysis of trends in the GER of men and women.

Special attention should be paid to interpreting data related to tertiary education where a ratio in favour of girls may reflect the fact that a higher number of men than women study abroad or join the labour market early.


In situations of limited resources, families make difficult choices about sending their children to school. They may perceive the value of education differently for boys and girls. Girls are more likely than boys to suffer from limited access to education, especially in rural areas. But where basic education is widely accepted and overall enrolment is high, girls tend to equal or outnumber boys at primary and secondary levels. The pattern is similar in higher education, but with larger differences between the two sexes.


For global and regional monitoring, the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UIS) produces time series data based on enrolment data reported by education ministries or national statistical offices, through questionnaires sent annually to countries, and population estimates produced by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNPD). Population estimates are revised and submitted to international agencies every two years by the United Nations Population Division based on recent country population censuses or updated information on births, deaths and migration. Consequently, UIS updates its time series in order to make trends comparable for UPE monitoring.

The Gender Parity Index is calculated for each level of education. To ensure international comparability, the official school age populations for each level of education are those defined in ISCED97. (on ISCED, see DATA FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL MONITORING for Indicator 2.1)

Country figures may differ from international figures because of differences between nationally defined school age populations and levels, and those defined in ISCED97 or differences in coverage (that is, the extent to which different types of education—for instance, private or special education—or different types of programmes—for instance, adult education or early childhood care and education—are included in national figures). There might also be differences between national population data and population estimates prepared by the UNPD, which are used by UIS as denominator for the indicator.

Regional and global averages are calculated on the basis of the data published by the UIS and using the best possible non-publishable estimates where no publishable data exist. Averages are produced using the appropriate school-age populations as weights. At the tertiary level, this is the five-year age group immediately following the theoretical end of secondary education as defined by ISCED97.




United Nations (2008). Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses: Revision 2. New York. Available from http://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/SeriesM/Seriesm_67rev2e.pdf.

United Nations Chidren’s Fund. Childinfo. Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women. Education Statistics. New York. Internet site http://www.childinfo.org/education.html.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2009). Education Indicators Technical Guidelines. Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/ev.php?ID=5202_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (1997). International Standard Classification of Education, 1997 (ISCED). Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/TEMPLATE/pdf/isced/ISCED_A.pdf.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Education Statistics Glossary. Montreal. Internet site http://www.uis.unesco.org/glossary.

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