Improving gender ratios in the national education system is of prime concern in PNG, where male students generally outperform their female counterparts in most areas. Girls tend to drop out of school on average two years before boys; and in some provinces illiteracy rates are nearly twice as high among female adults as among males. Thus, reducing gender disparity in education is a central feature of the government’s ongoing development plans for the sector. Additionally, initiatives by the UN and the World Bank aim to assist PNG in meeting the targets laid out in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in 2000 and including the aim to eliminate “gender disparity in primary and secondary education”.

THE CURRENT SITUATION: In September 2009 the government released the Vision 2050 economic plan. According to the strategic assessment, PNG had not made real gains on seven of the eight MDGs, including goal three, to “promote gender equality and empower women”. A September 2011 report by the PNG Education Advocacy Network (PEAN), a local non-governmental organisation, presented survey findings of literacy rates among the 15- to 60-year-old population in five provinces (including the populous National Capital District), showing that illiterate females outnumbered illiterate males by around 10 percentage points. According to UNICEF, in 2009 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – boys in PNG had a net school enrolment rate of 66%, compared to 61% among girls. Boys had a gross enrolment rate of 82% and a completion rate of 59%, while girls’ rates stood at74% and 45%, respectively. Also in 2009, 61% of teachers and 74% of head-teachers in PNG were male. A recent survey carried out by the Department of Education (DoE), explains that many girls leave school due to a lack of hygienic water supply and lavatories. “Girls often drop out of school before boys because of poor sanitation facilities,” James Agigo, the head of policy, planning and research at the DoE, told OBG. A number of other factors have also contributed to gender disparity in the education system. For example, many daughters are kept at home to help out around the house and to protect them from gender-based violence, a major issue in PNG, instead of sending them to school.

MAKING PROGRESS: PNG has passed a number of gender-related initiatives since independence, including the National Development Programme for Women in 1984; the National Women’s Policy in 1991; and the Gender Equity in Education Policy in 2003. In 2009 the DoE launched the Gender Equity Strategic Plan (GESP) 2009-14, which aims to ensure that “girls and boys, men and women all have the same opportunities to become educated and productive citizens”. The initiative describes a number of challenges to advancing gender equality in PNG’s schools and lays out a series of goals that will contribute to overcoming these issues. This includes building capacity at the DoE, providing gender sensitisation training in public facilities and “mainstreaming” ideas about gender equality throughout the education system. The DoE aims to foster change in PNG’s education system by encouraging teachers and other sector participants to think about gender equity as a necessary, integral part of their work.

The government plans to roll out the GESP with assistance from a number of major international aid organisations, including UNICEF and the World Bank, both of which have long been active in gender-related education projects in PNG. In May 2011 UNICEF, partnering with the DoE, hosted an eight-day workshop on the topic of evidence-based advocacy for gender mainstreaming in education. “We support the government’s ongoing education plans, and we also oversee a number of our own projects,” said Lyn Bae, an education officer with UNICEF in PNG. “In the past we have subsidised school fees for poor, pregnant girls, for example.” The World Bank oversees a number of programmes related to gender issues in PNG, including the Inclusive Development in Post-Conflict Bougainville Project, which supplies training and other forms of support to women’s groups in the troubled Bougainville region.