“We recognise that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

Charter of the Commonwealth (Commonwealth Heads of Government, 2013)



Gender disparities between 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 (e.g. job opportunities); 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. Two-thirds of the poor in the Commonwealth are women and girls (Jones, 2009).

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

Gender equality will continue to be 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 is well-positioned to help its partners mainstream gender perspectives in open and distance learning. But, gender equality in learning requires that both women/girls and men/boys experience the same level of quality and equitable outcomes, emphasising a greater need to focus on open and distance learning (ODL) practice, delivery and outcomes.

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 in gender mainstreaming in ODL; and

  • Develop a gender mainstreaming model for further replication.


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