A look at how men’s education is portrayed in the World Development Report 2012 on Gender and Equality, and where it fails

The World Development Report (WDR) 2012 has recently been released, documenting the state of Gender Equality and Development around the world. The WDR is a yearly report documenting the state of development around the world, and it put out by the World Bank (WB). The report attempts to tackle a vast array of topics and attempts to address the state of gender equality around the globe. Having taken on this difficult and weighty task, the team of authors has collected data from various sources, striving to provide a detailed and concrete picture of where progress has been made, and where further future progress is still needed.

The report states there are four priority areas which it focuses on, these are: “Reducing excess female mortality and closing education gaps where they remain; Improving access to economic opportunities for women; Increasing women’s voice and agency in the household and in society; and Limiting the reproduction of gender inequality across generations.” (WDR, 2012, 36). The report sees the state of women as having drastically improved, but argues that large social changes are still required before gender equality is reached.

The report asserts that in most areas concerning gender equality, women and girls are still considerably behind men and boys. The one area in which boys fall behind is in education. “Everywhere in the world, repetition and, to a lesser extent, dropout rates [in education] are higher among boys than among girls.” (WDR, 2012, 76). Boys face a wide range of challenges that lead to lower achievement rates in education. A recent program identifies the fact that some masculine identities push men and boys away from academic performance (WDR, 2012, 112). Cultural norms often distance men from academic success, often “identifying education as primarily a “female” endeavor… [causing boys to] withdraw from school.” (WDR, 2012, 76).

The issue of men and boys in education is crucial to the cause of gender equality for a multitude of reasons. Increases in education levels, for both boys and girls, is a strong determinant towards progress and social improvement. Beyond this, education for men specifically is also decisive in the overall push towards gender equality. “Surveys suggest that better educated men are more likely to put more time into domestic roles and care giving, perhaps because education changes norms and weakens stereotypes and because more educated men have higher incomes, which may affect their ability or inclination to challenge norms.” (WDR, 2012, 173).

Viewing these two details together, a clear picture emerges of just how serious the state of men’s education is. If it is true that men who are more educated are more likely to challenge norms and participate in domestic roles and caregiving, but men’s overall achievement rate in education is declining; then it would seem logical to assume that there will be a decrease in men’s involvement in challenging norms, and increased resistance to men sharing in the domestic or care giving roles. This decline in men’s desire to participate in domestic and care giving roles, and lowered commitment to changing gender norms, is a movement away from gender equality.

While the report recognizes lower men’s achievement in education as well as the fact that an increase in men’s education levels leads to more men challenging gender norms, it does nothing to resolve or address this issue. In the movement towards gender equality, this seems like an issue that deserves attention. The four priorities that the report sets out leave no room for this issue to be tackled to the extent needed. By fixating on women and girls as the sole agents, and recipients, of work on gender equality, men are excluded almost entirely. In their overall exclusion of men, and lack of focus on men’s education, the World Development Report, and the World Bank, is in some ways perpetuating systemic gender inequality.

Men’s involvement in the fight for gender equality is vital. Although the report seems to recognize this, in statements such as “it is necessary to work with both men and women to break harmful gender norms” (WDR, 2012, 336), it does almost nothing to capitalize on this matter. Throughout the report, men are given only a cursory mention, often as an afterthought to the clear primary concern, women.

In working towards gender equality, the importance of men’s education cannot be understated, and this issue must be addressed for a movement towards gender equality to succeed. Men’s education and men’s involvement in the struggle for gender equality is of utmost importance, which this report does not address, let alone suggest or support reform of the area.

Originally posted at Good Men Project at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/world-development-report-2012-g…

The World Bank (2012) World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, Washington DC: The World Bank. Available at http://go.worldbank.org/CQCTMSFI40. [Accessed October 2011]