Empowering Women through TVET
Insights from Gender Experts
As part of UNESCO-UNEVOC’s activities for the International Women’s Day to promote gender equality in TVET aimed at empowering women with employable skills and lifelong learning, we requested key gender experts to share their insights on the key challenges associated with gender equality and the prospects that TVET holds to counter them.
Insights from UNESCO
Based on UNESCO's continuing work in advancing gender equality in access to educational opportunities, UNESCO-UNEVOC invited Ms. Justine Sass, a key UNESCO Gender Expert to share her insights.
What are the key factors determining the success of skills oriented educational programmes that promote gainful employment and lifelong learning for women?
In 2017, UNESCO published a report titled Cracking the Code. This report aimed to understand the determinant factors of female participation, achievement and continuing pursuit of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. Most of the findings would resonate with TVET as well, given that it also has a substantial element of STEM in addition to other vocational and technical streams. The key factors in determining the success of skills oriented educational programmes, in the context of employability and lifelong learning, include:
- Providing early learning opportunities to develop language and spatial skills early;
- Dispelling the idea that certain educational, vocational and training fields are exclusively male domains, and encouraging girls and young women to pursue these fields. Ensure, at all educational levels, that the interest of girls and young women in "non-traditional" subject choices is nurtured;
- Equipping teachers/educators with skills for gender-transformative pedagogy where they can challenge harmful gender dynamics in the classroom and school environment and promote equal opportunities for learning;
- Ensuring that the curricula and learning materials are gender sensitive, and do not reinforce stereotypes or bias against women. This should enable the women to aspire towards any vocation or skill that they find their aptitude and interest aligned with;
- Enhancing opportunities for real-life experience, hands-on practice, apprenticeships, career counseling and mentoring, and assessment practices that are free from gender bias and stereotypes.
There are also spillovers from the broader social environment that also play a role in facilitating equal access of women and girls to learning and employment opportunities. These span from policies and legislation that explicitly target gender equality in schools and workplaces, to fostering a cultural environment where girls’ and women’s aspirations for different academic and career choices are given equal consideration. Finally, skills development programmes must offer a greater platform for female teachers to demonstrate themselves as role models and dispel gender-based occupational stereotypes.
What are the key challenges for women in the changing world of work?
Persistent challenges for women in the world of work include:
- Limited support for childcare, maternity leave, social protection benefits, sexual harassment and insecurity;
- Work-life imbalance, given the additional roles of women in the caregiving economy;
- Limited female role models and women in position of leadership; and
- Fewer opportunities in the formal economy, and inequalities in remuneration and progression where opportunities do exist.
How do you envisage the role of women as change agents in promoting gender equality and mitigating the challenges that confront female participation in educational and professional domains, especially in TVET?
The presence of female role models in TVET can mitigate negative stereotypes about "appropriate" studies and careers for women vs men, and offer girls an authentic understanding of related studies and careers. Female teachers are also, often, the most important role models to students apart from their families. Role models can also enhance girls' and women's self-perceptions and attitudes towards TVET, as well as their motivation to pursue related careers.
Source: UNESCO GEMR 2018 Gender Review
Women's associations, networks and societies can be linked to school programmes through camps, extracurricular activities, and cultivate learning beyond the classroom and interest. Women in the private sector can also provide opportunities for mentorship and internship, help girls to improve their self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation, provide guidance about financial resources such as scholarships, special programmes, networks and job opportunities, and link girls with others who in STEM careers.
In recent years, there has been a push to increase access to education, capital and other resources, and generate new opportunities for women. Do you think these policies and programs have been effective? Where do you see gaps in the global conversation on gender development?
Policies and programmes to advance gender parity in primary and to some extent secondary, education have been effective in increasing female enrollments. However, gaping gender gaps persist in many regions, and girls continue to make up the majority of out-of-school children, and remain more likely than boys to never go to school. Women also continue to make up the majority of illiterate adults, with little progress since 2000.
Despite the commitments through the Sustainable Development Goals, productive investments to ensure the access of disadvantaged children in rural and under-served areas to quality education remain limited. Expanding conflicts, and the associated migration and instability, further inhibit the access to quality education.
The largest gaps in the global conversation revolve around gender norms and expectations. It is imperative to make education and training transformative in establishing and maintaining norms that respect diversity, promote equality, foster respect, and create pathways toward a world with equal opportunities. One where anyone can occupy a leadership position, do the same job, and take on care roles equally - regardless of their gender.
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Insights from the Industry
Given some of their recent engagements calling for a reskilling revolution, and the Global Gender Gap Report, UNESCO-UNEVOC invited an expert from the World Economic Forum to share their insights on:
1. How is the world of work responding to gender-based occupational segregation?
2. How can skilling women, especially in TVET, prepare them for the impact of disruptions in training and professional opportunities?
While national cultures and policies shape women’s participation in national workforces around the world, sectoral cultures and practices also play a significant role. Today’s business sectors have inherited company and industry cultures in which women participate to varying degrees. According to the World Economic Forum’s research, across all industries, despite some progress over the past decade, there remains a widening gender gap as one moves up the corporate ladder from junior level roles, to mid-level staff, to senior leadership positions.
Some industries – such as media and professional services – have achieved, or are close to achieving, gender parity at the entry level and for junior roles; while others, such as IT, manufacturing and energy display large gender imbalances from the outset. Regardless of the industry, however, employers across all sectors too frequently fail to retain their female talent up the ladder – and, to date, no sector has achieved full gender parity at the senior leadership level.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold in different industries and job families, it will affect female and male workers, and the dynamics behind this industry gender gap in various ways. If harnessed in the right way, the emergence of new, technology-enabled flexible working patterns and other similar trends could result in a more gender-balanced workplace. However, as disruptive change comes to labour markets, there is also a risk that these trends might amplify pre-existing gender segregation on sectoral lines.
In the light of trends such as automation, artificial intelligence and “Industry 4.0”, the global workforce is expected to experience significant churn between job families and functions. Our research finds that much of the resulting labour market disruption is likely to be concentrated in job families with the currently largest share of female employees, such as white-collar office functions, as well as in job families with currently the highest gender imbalances, particularly the STEM fields including engineering, computer science and manufacturing.
If the current gender gaps persist and labour market transformation towards new and emerging roles in STEM fields continues to outpace the rate of female entry into related training and professional opportunities, women will be at risk of exclusion. This would also aggravate the hiring processes for companies due to a restricted applicant pool and reduce the diversity dividend within the industry. However, we do see encouraging signs that more and more industries are recognizing this risk and are aiming to move towards a virtuous cycle around addressing skills shortages by proactively targeting female talent.
The current momentum thus offers a unique opportunity to proactively enhance gender equality and prevent widening gender—and skills—gaps, benefiting not just women in the workforce but industries as well.
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