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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



How can adult learning help to address gender inequality?

by EPALE Moderator

On average, women around the EU earn 16% less per hour than men. Women earn less over their lifetimes, have a lower employment rate and are more likely to be living in poverty.

Adult learning has the power to change this. How do you think adult learning can help to address gender inequality?


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  • Mahira Spiteri's picture

    Happy International Women's Day!

    For the purposes of this discussion, I am speaking on behalf of the diverse women and the difference between equality and equity. We've been discussing gender equality/inequality but give less importance to gender equity.  Because of the numbers of people involved and the magnitude of the problems, taking action to improve gender equity is one of the most direct and potent ways to reduce gender inequalities. I truly believe that gender equity can also have a direct impact on motivating and mobilizing governments, people and women themselves.

  • Mary-Clare O'CONNOR's picture

    I absolutely agree (and incidentally Gina Ebner from the European Assocaition for the Education of Adults has written a brilliant post about funding for adult education - 'Adult education is a femine sector - is that why we don't have enough money?')

    In theory, I think that more needs to be done to reduce this gendered view of roles. Why are STEM jobs more masculine and nursing/education seen as feminine? We need to challenge this perception - maybe more funding for 'feminine' sectors is the first step.

  • EPALE Moderator's picture

    A definition of gender quality and gender equity from UNESCO:

    Gender equity refers to 'specific measures must be designed to eliminate inequalities between women and men'.

    Gender equality is 'the freedom to develop and make choices unhindered by gender stereotypes, roles and prejudices; that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities do not depend on whether they are born male or female.'

  • Kerstin Hagblom's picture

    Thanks for the two definitions! It definitely makes you begin thinking of the difference between nice word about the importance of equality and measures for enhancing it! It is said that salaries relatively tend to decrease (or grow more slowly in relation to other sectors) in sectors where men traditionally have been overrepresented, but where women today are overrepresented. Does this say anything about equality, and is it true that there is such a tendency? And if the answer is yes, what measures can then be the most appropriate to adjust the situation?

  • Mahira Spiteri's picture

    I came across this quote on facebook and wonder if you agree with this statement. I think it has plenty of food for thought.

  • Cristina Allemann-Ghionda's picture

    Some projects carried out in Switzerland with Italian migrant women show: for those who have a rather low level of education, it helps to offer vocational training combined with language tuition and, if needed, childcare facilities. Also, an obstacle may be the opposition by husbands. So men need to get involved.

  • Linda Morrice's picture

    I think you raise some important issues here. Childcare is key to enabling women to participate, it is also important that provision considers the motivations of the learners, so if employment is a goal then provision which combines the two is important.

  • Rumen HALACHEV's picture

    Happy International Women's Day!

    Closing the gender pay gap is a crucial step to take towards equality, but what adult education can do is change people's perceptions of certain jobs as 'feminine' or 'masculine'. Breaking these stereotypes will increase diversity in gendered sectors (such as education or engineering), which can only be beneficial for women and men.

  • Zhuliyan GOCHEV's picture

    Happy International Women's Day!
    I support the understanding of Rumen. No jobs are only for women and those that are only for men!
    The fact that Bulgarian women already in leadership positions in the European Commission (Kristalina Georgieva) and UNESCO (Irina Bokova) shows that Bulgaria has taken steps in this direction.
    I congratulate all women with the celebration of national support servises and NSS in Bulgaria.

  • Geraldine LIBREAU's picture

    Adult education can do so much for women and gender equality:

    - it gives learners self confidence and helps empowering women to decide for themselves on what is good for them;

    - it increases their skills and may help them find (better) jobs, hence increasing their financial independence;

    - it allows them to better educate their children and help them at school, therefore breaking the vicious circle of education poverty which is often passed from one generation to the next...

    - it is fun, and we all need fun in our lives !!!

  • Mahira Spiteri's picture

    Although in theory I agree with what you say, are there any statistics that can support the arguments made?

  • Mary-Clare O'CONNOR's picture

    A UK organisation published the results of a survey of 8000 people today. The Fawcett Society found that working mothers pay a 'motherhood penalty'. It found that when a woman has a baby, 46% of people believe she becomes less committed to her job (compared to 11% of men). 

    Workplace learning can play a role in changing attitudes to women who return to work after having children, which would by extension open up more opportunities for career progression.

    This is especially important in male-dominated industries where women are particularly underrepresented in senior positions! Companies must commit to closing the pay gap through equal opportunities for working mothers - and that starts with education.

  • Hilary Taylor's picture

    Hi Mary,

    Late last year, an article was published in Stylist magazine of women who return to work after maternity leave. There were some very negative and very positive stories of women returning to the workplace. An update to the article is here.

    "A survey by the national Childbirth Trust (NCT) found that one in three women return to work after maternity leave to find their job ‘unrecognisable’ to the one they left, whilst recent figures from a Mumsnet survey found that 84% of mums feel that having children has made it harder to progress in their career, 76% feel less employable since having a child, and 85% believe that UK employers are ‘poor’ when it comes to being family friendly."

    You mention that equal opportunities for working women starts with education - and I think a large part of that is about being aware of your legal rights with regards to your employer and them enabling you upon returning to work to upskill if needed.



  • Eleni Galifianaki's picture

    Mahira, thank you for making such an important distinction, between gender equity and equality.

    I read the (very interesting) interview of Maria Pisani: activist, founder of Integra Foundation and mother of 4 children.

    I think it goes without saying that women are called to play multiple roles simultaneously juggling professional life, motherhood, being a spouse as well as the need for personal development amongst others.

    Just as in the case of M. Pisani who chose to continue her education as an adult, many women are more likely to face gendered obstacles and thus not have the time nor the energy to climb up the career ladder. Cultural and social obstacles aside, these factors are important enough to hinder women from making it into the boardroom and power positions.

  • Mahira Spiteri's picture

    I agree that Maria Pisani is indeed a spectacular woman and she managed to balance all these things despite the odds and obstacles. She also mentiones that women who nowadays choose to stay at home (contrary to the past) are frowned upon. I think women have to be free to make choices - but choices need to be given and made available in the first place.

  • EPALE MONTENEGRO's picture

    Hello everyone,


    My name is Gordana Bošković. I am from Montenegro and I work in the Centre for Vocational Education and Training (EPALE NSS) as adult education adviser. I am the member of EPALE NSS Project Team and National Coordinator for the implementation of European Agenda for Adult Learning. I find top discussion “by education to gender equality” of paramount importance for further planning of measures and activities in European countries which dedicate particular attention to social development and accentuation of equality. Therefore, I would like to point out the significance of adult education for the popularization of the topic of gender equality in the implementation of national plans and measures in this field.

    Education represents the key for solving numerous challenges in a society. Approaching the society of equal opportunities and rights has actually been one of today’s challenges for many social communities in Europe. Gender equality is the topic which has long been connecting various stakeholders to jointly strive to make the rights of women visible and equal in practice. Accordingly, the Government of Montenegro, in 2013, adopted the Action Plan for Achieving Gender Equality in Montenegro (PAPRR 2013-2017). This plan represents a developmental document for the implementation of gender equality policy and it is based on international and national sources which treat the issue of gender equality. It is not possible to separate gender policy from equal recognition, exercise and protection of human rights, implementation of social justice, social inclusion and achievement of sustainable development. Out of 12 critical areas with the most expressed gender inequality in Beijing Declaration, Montenegro has opted for nine areas in which it intends to act upon achieving gender equality in the forthcoming period. These are the following areas: Improvement of human rights of women and gender equality, gender sensitive education and upbringing, gender equality in economy, gender sensitive health protection, gender based violence, media and culture, equality in decision making process in political and public life, international policy and cooperation and institutional mechanisms for the implementation of gender equality. In each of these areas, education is the basis for the achievement of defined goals and the only guarantee of success. Education of various target groups (holders of judiciary functions, teachers of civic education, members of multidisciplinary teams, media representatives, secondary school students, university professors, employees in public order authorities, etc.) on the prevention and protection from violence against women and domestic violence, with particular focus on familiarization with Istanbul Convention and its implementation, may be a significant visible progress in the implementation of measures for achieving gender equality. In many countries, as well as in Montenegro, favourable credit lines for women are being established. However, a target-oriented campaign is necessary in order to encourage women to get independent and register their own business which they will offer on the market. It is necessary to implement educational measures which will have social impact such as: to develop inter-subject curriculum on gender equality in primary schools, organize training on gender equality for teachers on the level of pre-primary and primary education, organize teacher training for teaching on gender equality within optional subjects Civic Education and Healthy Lifestyles, develop and licence training programmes for the employed in education on gender based violence and domestic violence, which actually means that the programme of gender equality should be aimed at being integrated within the whole education system.

  • EPALE Moderator's picture

    It was great to hear more about activities that are taking place in Montenegro. Are there any interesting measures or adult learning projects happening elsewhere in Europe?

  • Emma GRAINGER's picture

    I think before we can look at the question of adult learning addressing gender inequality we must examine gender inequality in adult learning. As the piece by Gina Ebner in the blog section mentions Adult Education is seen as a female endeavour. Perhaps this is something in itself to be addressed. 

    For Ireland at least it is true that in the adult and community education sector, male participation is particularly low. Adult education is non-compulsory education that adults choose for themselves, sometimes leading to an award and sometimes for interest only, while community education generally targets those who may have missed out on educational opportunities when younger. But, it seems, they’re not reaching those who need them most.

    Michael Hallissy chairs Dublin 8 Community Education Centre (D8CEC). “Across all age groups, men in Ireland have lower levels of educational attainment than women,” he says. “Ironically, however, it has always been far more difficult to attract men into second-chance education than women. In adult learning centres throughout Ireland, it is the norm to have nine or 10 female learners for every man. This challenge of encouraging men to participate in second-chance education became ever more pressing with the recession, when thousands of men who left school early to take up low-skilled, manual jobs suddenly found themselves unemployed.” (Irish Times, Jan 2016) 

    So it seems as an 'industry' we are imbalanced. While I agree with the comments above about the benefits of adult education for women it would appear to be a missed opportunity to not also reconcile the imbalance and achieve equality through participation. 

  • Mahira Spiteri's picture

    A campaign for International men's day and adult education might be fruitful :)

  • Linda Morrice's picture

    I think the idea of International men's day might be seen as quite controversial in some quarters! However, given the low numbers of men in adult education perhpas a campaign to encourage more men to engage in adult learning might be udeful.

  • Vanessa Camilleri's picture

    Hi Emma, I agree with you and I can also describe a situation in Malta when we were running some training courses for senior citizens at day care centres. The training courses were meant to help senior citizens use tablets for a variety of purposes. During these courses the greatest number of participants were women, and on rare occasions they would drag their husbands with them. Only 1 or 2 men would be present at these courses voluntarily. At one point I queried whether had we organised 'Men Only' courses we'd have had a greater attendance! 

  • Ajda Turk's picture

    How to get men to participate in (informal) adult learning? This is also one of the most important questions in Slovenian adult learning. We can see women who participate in different events, creative workshops etc. But where are men? If you go to an event of Third Age University or Ljubljana City Library, you might meet 2 or 3 men in the group of 25 women. You can see an ilustrative example of this (with no men) in the video about The Study Circle Between History and the Present here: Australian Men's Sheds are a good example where men can learn.

    However, we can see another story when it comes to migrant women or women with lower skills. There are stories how difficult was for them to enroll in courses because of the family, language or even local community. So it is important to work with family members and the whole community, which has to adopt adult learning as something that can benefit all their citizens, especially women (with children, lower income, migrants etc.). 

  • Vanessa Camilleri's picture

    Gender inequality is I feel an issue which whether we admit it or not exists. I work in the field of IT and I can say that although there are women in the field they are greatly outnumbered by men, even though research shows that women who actually study at higher education in the field of IT may get better grades than their male peers. Now the question you ask Mahira, is how can adult learning help to address gender inequality? I'm afraid I don't have a ready answer. I know that the gender inequality is very much a part of our societal structures and I know that education may be key to address this issue but I wonder if that may be enough. I think support structures and communities of practice are very important to help increase gender equality - but rather than equality I keep thinking it's more a matter of helping women find the balance between work and family. Most often the balance seems to tip towards family which may lead to a step back in the career sector. In any way, it might be worth considering that rather than pursuing the gender equality, we strive to achieve a personal balance - each person becomes an individual intent on achieving the maximum benefit on the family-work scale. Maybe that might indirectly affect the gender equality issues. 


  • Eleni Galifianaki's picture

    In a blog posted earlier today, on the occasion of today’s celebration, by the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education the author Dr. Vida Mohorčič Špolar observes that “we need to understand how to motivate women and men to engage in adult education, no easy task, especially in a more traditional environment in which gender roles are strictly observed.”

    The author points out that there is an abundance of practice to learn from and consultation of available databases of good practice such as that held by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg is highly important.

  • EPALE Moderator's picture

  • Marcelle Bugre's picture

    Awareness raising is critical in promoting gender equity, especially when using strategies that involve the generak public, increase visibility and enhance well being among persons effected

  • Marcelle Bugre's picture

    Awareness raising is critical in promoting gender equity, especially when using strategies that involve the generak public, increase visibility and enhance well being among persons effected

  • Marcelle Bugre's picture

    Is gender mainstreaming important in adult education? 

  • Cristina Allemann-Ghionda's picture

    Gender mainstreaming, yes, by all means! However, depending on the target group and the starting level, it may be a long-term goal which needs many previous gender specific actions for migrant women before it can be reached.

  • Demo account EPALE's picture

    Thank you for a great discussion.