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Mind the gap: the state of girls’ education in crisis and conflict



This report summarizes recent progress made in improving education and training for girls and women affected by conflict and crisis, including refugees and internally displaced persons. It was commissioned by the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) under the auspices of the INEE Reference Group on Girls’ Education in Emergencies in response to commitments made by leaders of seven of the world’s largest economies at the 44th Group of Seven Summit, which was hosted by Canada in 2018. By adopting The Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries (hereafter referred to as ‘the Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education’), these leaders collectively committed to invest in quality education for girls and women during conflict and crisis, including refugees and internally displaced persons.

The purpose of this report is to contribute to the evidence base on education for girls and women in crisis situations. The report draws from data on 44 crisis-affected countries (see Table 1), from recent research, and from a set of case studies of interventions in a range of crisis-affected contexts. Given that the data available at the time of writing were primarily from 2018 and 2019, the data presented do not reflect the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on girls’ education in emergencies; however, some analysis of the education response to the crisis is included.



  • Girls’ and women’s right to education, including in situations of crisis and displacement, is embedded in international human rights law through various international conventions. However, a number of countries with large, displaced populations have not fully ratified these conventions.

  • National legal frameworks in crisis-affected countries often provide only limited protection of girls’ and women’s right to education.

  • Alternative education programs can be particularly effective in supporting girls’ education during crises, but they need to be integrated into national education policies.

  • Evidence from national education policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis indicate that limited attention has been given to the additional barriers girls are facing as they try to learn at home, including the gender digital divide.


  • There is a virtuous circular relationship between the education and the protection of girls. Education can protect girls, which in turn makes their communities more resilient.

  • The inability to access education can mean a loss of protection for girls, which may lead them to drop out of school, thus making the girls and their communities less resilient.

  • In emergencies, girls are often at greater risk than boys of school dropout. Girls’ risk of early marriage, early childbearing, and family expectations around providing domestic labor and unpaid caregiving work also tend to increase during crises.

  • Girls experience high rates of school-related gender-based violence in many crisis-affected countries, including “sex for grades,” teacher-perpetrated rape and sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, abuse, or rape on the journey to and from school.

  • Girls and women with disabilities may be the first to be abandoned and the last to receive emergency assistance and access to education during a crisis, thus they face a high risk of abuse, neglect, and long-term psychosocial trauma.

  • Attacks on education that explicitly targeted girls and women because of their gender took place in at least 21 countries between 2015 and 2019.


Crisis-affected girls

  • Girls in crisis-affected countries are far less likely than girls in non-crisis affected low- and middle-income countries to attend pre-primary or to complete primary or lower secondary school.

  • Girls in crisis-affected countries still lag behind boys in access to primary education overall, but the rate of girls’ access to primary education has been making faster progress in recent years.

  • In many crisis-affected countries girls have overtaken boys in secondary completion rates.

  • Within countries, economically disadvantaged girls in crisis-affected regions lag far behind economically disadvantaged boys in crisis-affected regions.

  • Girls’ learning lags behind that of boys in many crisis and displacement settings.

  • There is a shortage of female teachers in many crisis-affected countries, especially at the post-primary levels.

  • Female literacy rates lag far behind those of males in many crisis-affected countries.

  • In many crisis-affected countries, male access to vocational training lags behind that of females.

Forcibly displaced girls

  • Data on access to education for girls living in forced displacement are still very limited.

  • Displacement exacerbates gender disadvantages for girls living in forced displacement.

  • Gender gaps in access, particularly at the secondary level, are larger for girls living in forced displacement than for non-displaced children in crisis-affected countries.

  • Enrollment rates for girls living in forced displacement are far below national rates.


  • Very few crisis-affected countries meet the education spending targets set out in the Incheon Declaration adopted at the World Education Forum in 2015.

  • The Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education has been a catalyst for generating international funding that targets girls’ education and training in contexts of conflict and crisis.

  • The proportion of humanitarian aid focused on education has increased.

  • An increasing proportion of aid to education in crisis-affected countries is focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment; more than half of the aid to secondary education in these countries is focused on gender equality.


In recent years, great progress has been made toward achieving gender parity in education, increasing access to education for crisis-affected populations, improving data availability, and reforming aid structures to secure longer term, more reliable funding for education in emergencies and protracted crises. The Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education has helped to focus additional support where gaps remain for girls and women in crises.

Gender remains a significant determinant of access to education and training among the most marginalized, especially for the poorest households, refugees, and forcibly displaced persons. Where girls have access to education during crises, their learning outcomes are often extremely poor; they also are at risk of school-related gender-based violence and, in extreme cases, targeted attacks.

Gaps remain in education funding for girls in emergencies in terms of both national spending and international aid. Humanitarian aid to education remains unpredictable and unevenly distributed. Gaps in the data on access to education for refugees and internally displaced girls and women, girls’ learning outcomes, and the prevalence of school-related gender-based violence all present challenges to monitoring progress in girls’ access to education in emergencies.

For a summary of key findings and recommended actions for implementers, policymakers, and donors, please refer to the accompanying policy paper: Closing the Gap: Advancing Girls’ Education in Contexts of Crisis and Conflict.