Quality education and women’s rights in the Arab Region

On the occasion of the 8th of March marking the International Women’s Day “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future”, we have to pause and think deeply about the status of education in the Arab region, in liaison with the regional and global dimensions of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

The Arab region has made substantial progress towards improving girls’ access to education. The Gender Parity Index reached 0.99 at the pre-primary education level, 0.93 at the secondary education stage and 1.1 for tertiary education in 2017.[1] The Arab Campaign for Education for All reaffirms that to eliminate violence against women and achieve gender equality, girls and women must be educated and empowered to become advocates for their rights. We must, as well, invest in education and make it accessible, compulsory and free for all regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity and age.

Yet today, 3 million children are out-of-school due to conflicts

According to UNICEF, (2019) , an estimated 9.3 million children between the ages of 15 and 17 are out of school and girls account for just over half of them. Equally worrying, the cost of conflict is enormous, an estimated 3 million out-of-school children would have been enrolled in education had the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen not occurred. Inequities in access to education persist across the Middle East and North Africa, with the poorest and conflict-affected children consistently left behind. Across the region, children from the poorest families are seven times more likely to be out of school than children from the richest families, while children in rural areas are three times more likely to be out of school than their urban peers. At the lower secondary school level, girls are twice as likely to be out of school than boys. [2]

The state of education in the occupied territories of Palestine requires urgent attention. Through the work of Palestinian Coalition for Education the plight of girls has been clearly raised and practical recommendations made. All this work is highlighted in their recent research paper.

As crises persist throughout the Arab Region, and resources to address immediate humanitarian needs and long-term development goals increasingly become limited, better strategic plans to ensure a proactive and reactive response is needed to keep the commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4.This should focus on inclusion of the most vulnerable, poor and fragile groups such as women and girls in the rural and urban slums areas. Priority should be made to promoting sector-wide lifelong learning, and improving the quality of education. It is important, as well, to strengthen the system to ensure the critical evaluation of social justice and moral responsibility issues and action to address discrimination, inequality and social exclusion that result in providing marginalised groups some control over their lives.

The proactive response from civil society


To respond to the immediate need of people especially women and girls in the Arab Region, the civil society, national education coalitions, the Arab regional networks working on education took tremendous collective actions, to provide innovative, proactive and adapted answers to people’s needs.

On the 14th of December, 2019, the Arab House for Adult Education and Development, known as “AHAED” was launched in Lebanon, Beirut. AHED is a progressive programme gathering 4 networks in the Arab region: Arab Campaign for Education for All (ACEA), Arab Network for Popular Education (ANPE), Arab Network for Civic Education (ANHRE), and Arab Network for Literacy and Adult Education (ANLAE). This initiative is based on the right of individuals to lifelong learning and education without any type of discrimination, and is aligned with Education 2030.

It is designed to be a platform of exchange for practitioners, institutions and policy makers promoting the power of Adult Education in the Arab World towards renewal of Adult Education approaches and development of an educational renaissance and enlightenment in the region. The networks see this initiative as a tool to enhance efforts to change the reality of the Arab countries, with focus on linking education to development. They see AHAED as an umbrella for a large number of institutions and bodies that are particularly interested in Adult Learning and Education to achieve their common goals.

Likewise, Arab Network for Civic Education (ANRHE), being a partner with Arab Women Organisation in Jordan is implementing a pilot project funded by UNWOWEN focusing on blended learning models & related pedagogical practices for women in two Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and 4 less privileged, marginalised areas in the north and south of Jordan to give second chance to learning to women.

Also, Arab Campaign for Education for All (ACEA) concluded in December 2019 its annual symposium on the social outcomes of the educational systems in the Arab region and to enhance the accountability of the values of the education and how it could embrace equality, equity, fairness, social justice, acceptance and other social impact which would provide robust monitoring and rigorous evaluation of a democracy and governance system of education.

Towards inclusive systems

In the end, it is important to mention that a participatory learning process which embraces the values of cooperation, respect for diversity, equality, equity, respect, responsibility and acceptance based on personal experiences and critical thinking is needed to ensure all can enjoy their right to education. In this sense, we should work to recognise the difference and identities that may play a role in marginalisation based on age, culture, language, religion, gender, race, disability or social status, economic status, or educational level. Through its programmes, ANHRE develops skills to live in an increasingly diverse world. The education formal and non-formal system should focus on the inclusion of the rights of the most vulnerable groups to discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation, particularly girls and women, persons with disabilities, refugees, displaced persons, and the poorest.

[1] United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO). 2019. UIS Institute for Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: http://data.uis.unesco.org/# [Accessed 28 May 2019]

[2] https://www.unicef.org/mena/press-releases/over-one-third-adolescents-aged-15-17-are-out-school-across-middle-east-and-north


Fotouh M. Younes and Abeer Takrori Tamimi, Arab Network for Civic Education (ANHRE) and Arab Campaign for Education for All (ACEA)

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.