Gender disparities in the ability of women/girls and men/boys to participate in and benefit from quality learning opportunities are a key challenge. In the Commonwealth, there is significant inequality between women and men, in four critical areas: economic participation educational attainment; political empowerment; and health and survival (World Economic Forum, 2014). Women and girls generally have less control and access to resources and a limited voice in decision-making which limits their human potential.

Gender inequality is not all about women/girls, as gender disparities may sometimes adversely affect men and boys. In some Commonwealth Member States, boys’ academic underperformance and high dropout rates are a matter of concern.

COL is developing a holistic approach to address gender issues both in formal education and non-formal learning. In formal education, gender has become an important component in COL's Higher Education, Technical and Vocational Skills Development and Open Schooling initiatives. In the non-formal context, COL gender is an integral part of initiatives such as GIRLS Inspire and Lifelong Learning for Farmers. COL is also developing integrated programmes such as Lifelong Learning for Mothers, which address gender related challenges through holistic, multi-sectoral models.

Gender equality is a cross-cutting corporate goal for COL. In COL’s experience, gender mainstreaming can be an important and effective strategy for addressing gender inequality. Gender mainstreaming ensures that both women’s and men’s views, interests and needs shape policies, plans and programmes.

COL works to:

  • Harness the potential of ODL to expand access and improve learning outcomes for girls/women and boys/men;
  • Continue to integrate a gender equality perspective in its own programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation as well as in that of its partners;
  • Provide technical assistance and support in the design and development of gender-responsive curricula and teaching/learning materials;
  • Generate research and policy briefs to inform strategic directions for gender related programming; and
  • Use its gender mainstreaming model to increase gender equality within organisations and institutions throughout the Commonwealth.

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a strategy and process to ensure that gender equality is an integral part of all policies, plans and programmes. It is about ensuring that girls’/women’s and boys’/men’s views, experiences, interests and needs shape the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of interventions. Gender mainstreaming goes beyond increasing girls’/women’s participation; it facilitates equal opportunities, benefits and outcomes for both girls/women and boys/men.

Gender equality is central to the Commonwealth of Learning’s (COL) agenda of learning for sustainable development, and COL has adopted gender mainstreaming as an organisational strategy. By setting gender equality as a cross-cutting corporate goal, COL strives to ensure that both girls’/women’s and boys’/men’s views, interests and needs influence planning, policies and programmes.

Gender mainstreaming provides equal opportunities for girls/women and boys/men to participate in and benefit from COL’s development interventions in open and distance learning (ODL). COL also supports the institutional capacity of its partner institutions to mainstream gender equality in the planning, development, and monitoring and evaluation of learning programmes.

Gender Mainstreaming: A tool for learning for sustainable development

Learning opportunities are the drivers of social change and economic growth. Gender mainstreaming is one vehicle for ensuring equitable access to these learning opportunities. It is the essential tool for achieving gender equality, which in turn facilitates the achievement of sustainable development.

Institutions and organisations can initiate gender-responsive learning through a two-pronged approach: by establishing an organisational culture that promotes gender equality, and by identifying and addressing the barriers to learning for both girls/women and boys/men. Gender mainstreaming equalises:

  • the possibility for expansion of capabilities of both girls/women and boys/men,
  • access to resources and voice, and
  • the opportunity to be change agents.

It addresses systemic and structural gender discrimination and helps to remove the obstacles preventing full enjoyment of one’s freedoms.

Institutional Scorecard for Gender Mainstreaming

COL has designed various tools to enable partner institutions to measure and compare the status of gender mainstreaming, monitor progress towards minimum standards and focus attention on formulating approaches and measures that will allow both women and men to shape, participate in and benefit from quality learning opportunities.

Download the Institutional Scorecard for Gender Mainstreaming from COL’s Open Access Repository.

Additional resources on Gender Mainstreaming

COL’s Open Access Repository holds a range of resources related to gender mainstreaming, including Gender Mainstreaming in Learning for Sustainable Development, Gender Mainstreaming Toolkit for Teachers and Teacher Educators, Measuring Empowerment Toolkit and more.