Relevance of gender in the policy area

Education is a catalyst for social change and a condition for the achievement of fundamental human rights. It increases cognitive and non-cognitive skills, improves productivity and provides individuals with a greater ability to further develop their knowledge and skills throughout their lives. It also makes women and men better equipped to secure steady, well-paid jobs and thus combat the risks of social exclusion. Furthermore, education can better prepare individuals to recognise and handle difficult situations. Economic independence makes it easier to leave a difficult situation, such as a violent home. At the same time, educated citizens – both women and men – benefit entire societies. They make substantial contributions to the economy and contribute to the improved health, nutrition and education of their families.

Mainstreaming gender equality in education and training policy remains crucial in countries where equal access to education is taken as a given, which is the case in the majority of EU Member States. Figures on social inclusion and employment rates, and job quality indicators show that women remain at greater risk of social exclusion, unemployment and low-quality jobs in the EU. Women also remain, on average, slightly more likely to be unemployed than men with the same level of education. This situation contrasts sharply with the overall higher success rates of girls and women in the EU in terms of completing school education, accessing higher education or participating in lifelong learning. This should translate into more women being in better jobs.

Challenging gender prejudices and stereotypes throughout the education cycle, from primary school to lifelong learning, can reduce gender imbalances in other spheres of life. For example, gender segregation in the labour market as a result of different educational and professional choices in schools and universities, both for pupils and teachers, is widespread. Gender-based violence and sexist language also occurs in educational settings. Therefore, it is essential that gender-based stereotypes are deconstructed and challenged in the areas of education and training.

Gender stereotypes are also still present in teaching materials. Textbooks contain many stereotypes providing examples through gendered images diminishing the role of women. This is especially the case when men and women are depicted in professional contexts. Also linked to the issue of gender stereotypes is how to better mainstream gender in school curricula. In many cases, this is still left to the single interpretation of schools and teachers. The only way of integrating or mainstreaming gender issues into the curriculum should be directly through the teachers and the leadership of schools at an institutional level. However, one of the main problems remains how to motivate teachers and school leaders, and how to make this a normal part of the curriculum at each school level.

Gender equality in education and training continues to be affected by a number of factors:

  • gender-based different choices across study fields
  • the feminisation of the teaching profession v. the masculinisation of teaching in tertiary education
  • gender stereotypes in education
  • gender and low achievement in school
  • gender and early school leaving
  • gender and training
  • gender-based violence at school.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main issues

Existing gender-equality policy objectives at EU and international level

Education and training fall within the responsibilities of each Member State. However, in a context of global competition for skilled workers in knowledge-based societies, European societies are facing common challenges in this area. It is thus the objective of the European Union to support the efforts of Member States to address those challenges. This support takes many forms. These include opportunities for Member States to share good practices and learn from each other, gathering and sharing of data and evidence that can support policy reform. The Directorate-General for Education and Culture also coordinates the implementation of the Erasmus+ funding programme for education, training, youth and sport.

Policy cycle in education

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Education, training and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into education and training policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.


Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in education and training



The key milestones of the EU education and training policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level 

The overarching policy priorities of EU policy for education and learning can be summarised as follows:

  • making lifelong learning and mobility a reality
  • improving the quality and efficiency of education and training at any stage from early education to high education and training
  • promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship
  • enhancing creativity and innovation at all levels of education and training.

Early education

Improving the quality of preschool services

For early childhood education, the European Commission has set out the priority of improving access to and the quality of services from birth to the start of compulsory schooling. By 2020 at least 95% of preschool children aged four years or older should participate in early childhood education.

Primary and secondary education

Enhancing basic skills to support smart and inclusive growth (target of 15%)

The Europe 2020 strategic agenda aims at promoting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Literacy, numeracy and building basic skills in science and technology are key elements. In 2010, EU ministers set out an agenda for European policy cooperation on basic skills and a working group on MST was set up with a particular emphasis on low-achievers.

In this area, the target is to reduce the rate of young people (15 years old) who are not equipped with the necessary basic skills (literacy, mathematics, science and technology) from 20% to 15% (measured by the PISA tests).

Reducing early school leaving to less than 10% by 2020

Since early school leaving is directly correlated with unemployment, social exclusion and poverty, EU Member States have committed to reducing the average proportion of early school leavers among young people aged 18 – 24 (13.5% in 2011) to less than 10% by 2020. In 2010 they established a common framework for comprehensive and evidence-based policies to tackle early school leaving.

Higher education

Broadening the access to higher education and reducing dropout rates

As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, EU Member States have agreed to set a target of 40% of those aged 30 – 34 to achieve a higher education qualification (or equivalent) by 2020. In order to achieve this EU level target, Member States have set their own national targets to be reached by 2020.

Raise the proportion of students completing study or training abroad to 20%

EU ministers agreed to double the proportion of students who study abroad by 2020, bringing this rate to 20%. To achieve this aim, they made support for mobility a core focus of Erasmus+ (2014 – 2020), which has been granted €14.7 billion.

Focusing the Bologna process on mobility, employability and quality

The Bologna process supports the modernisation of education and training systems to make sure these meet the needs of a changing labour market, as the proportion of jobs requiring high skills grows. As it primarily consists of strengthening quality assurance and the mutual recognition of qualifications across the EU, the Bologna process also aims at enhancing mobility.

Lifelong learning and training

Raising the participation of adults in lifelong learning from 9% (2012) to 15% in 2020.

This objective has been set as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, and is to be monitored through the indicators set to support its implementation.

Ensuring the validation of non-formal and informal learning for the youth sector

This objective was set in the Council recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning of 20 December 2012.


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