Learning is not only the key to individual freedom, it also brings empowerment. Once people are empowered, they can make both choices and decisions, which increases their ability to act and to influence their lives and environ¬ment. Learning for sustainable development, as defined by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), is a process that aims to bring about empowerment through learning in both formal and non-formal settings. Sustainable development has three key facets: equity and social inclusion (all members of a society, regardless of gender, race or income, have access to quality learning op¬portunities and can direct their own development); economic empowerment (people have not only the knowledge and skills but also the opportunities for gainful employment and entre¬preneurship); and ensuring environmental protection (social and economic development do not destroy natural resources). Learning is a key tool in achieving sustainable development. COL’s work mainly addresses two of those facets: equity and economic empowerment. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen considers “development as freedom” and describes it as “the real opportunity that we have to accomplish what we value.” Sustainable develop¬ment is about expanding people’s options while protecting the potential of future generations to enjoy similar freedoms. One of those freedoms must be equal access to learning op¬portunities for all girls/women and boys/men. Gender mainstreaming is a strategy and process for ensuring that both sexes participate equally in decision-making and access resources, oppor¬tunities and benefits of social and economic development. Its purpose is to achieve gender equality, which is essential for the creation of healthy and sustainable societies, a key priority in the 2013 Commonwealth Charter. From a learning per¬spective, this is achievable through various means, includ¬ing the use of technologies and open and distance learning (ODL). ODL provides marginalised populations — irrespec¬tive of gender, age, ethnicity, location or education — with an “equalising opportunity” to tap into formal and informal learning (a self-motivated, intrinsic process of acquiring knowledge, values and skills) as opposed to formal educa¬tion (the passive process of imparting knowledge, values and skills to an individual through an external source). ODL therefore offers all members of a community a chance to enrol in learning programmes to not only acquire the knowl¬edge and skills they need to live a healthy and productive life, but also be active participants in their community, con¬tributing to its long-term development.
Gender Mainstreaming in Learning for Sustainable Development