4. Domain of knowledge

Education is a powerful driver of more gender-equal and inclusive societies. Equal access to education and a fair and high-quality educational process for girls and boys and women and men provide benefits at individual and societal level (EIGE, 2018c). Education is also a tool to raise awareness of the key principles of equality between women and men and to prevent a backlash against women’s rights (European Parliament, 2019).

The Gender Equality Index for the domain of knowledge reveals how women’s educational attainment is rising, but overall positive development is being held back by strong gender segregation and low engagement in lifelong learning. While young women (aged 30-34 years) have already exceeded the Europe 2020 tertiary education target of 40 % (46 %), the share of men tertiary graduates has yet to reach it (36 %)[1].

About half of EU students graduate in two main fields of education, with gender concentration striking in both. Just over a fifth (21 %) of men tertiary students graduate in education, health and welfare, humanities and arts[2], while only 33 % of women students graduate in STEM (EIGE, 2018c). Such a divide is mirrored by the gender segregation in the equivalent labour market, determining women’s and men’s earnings, career prospects and working conditions.

Of growing concern is a lack of participation in lifelong learning. The majority of Member States lag far behind the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) benchmark of 15 % of adults aged 25-64 years engaged in lifelong learning (Council of the European Union, 2009). Between 2013 and 2017 the participation figure stagnated at 11 %[3], with women more likely to engage in adult learning than men in the majority of Member States. Participation is often low among those who would benefit the most from education and training, for example women with low levels of qualification or women engaged in precarious employment.

The domain of know­ledge measures gender inequalities in educational attainment, participation in education and training throughout the course of a life and gender segregation. The sub-domain of educational attainment is measured by two indicators: the percentage of women and men tertiary graduates; and the participation of women and men in formal and non-formal education and training throughout the course of a life. The second sub-domain targets gender segregation in tertiary education by looking at the percentage of women and men students in the education, health and welfare, humanities and arts fields.

The European Pillar of Social Rights emphasises quality and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning to acquire and maintain skills that enable women and men to participate fully in society and successfully manage transitions in the labour market (European Commission, 2018e). Adult participation in learning plays a crucial role in the Europe 2020 flagship initiative, ‘An agenda for new skills and jobs’, and played a similarly important role in the concluded ‘Youth on the move’ initiative (European Commission, 2010). In addition, the European Council’s resolution on a renewed European agenda for adult learning addresses the challenge of raising participation rates among adults in learning activities (Council of the European Union, 2011).