Elaine Unterhalter on girls’ education and gender equality

In this video, Elaine Unterhalter discusses a rigorous literature review focused on girls’ education and gender equality, which she wrote with colleagues. It was commissioned by the Department for International Development (DFID) as part of a series on education. The central research question that the review set out to investigate concerned the kind of interventions that research evidence suggests can lead to an expansion and improvement in girls’ education. It also considered evidence on the relationship between an expansion and improvement in girls’ education and a deepening of gender equality.

A Theory of Change (ToC) was developed for the review. This drew on the understanding that girls’ education and gender equality are affected by processes within and beyond schools. It was hypothesised that the development and implementation of interventions to improve girls’ schooling and enhance gender equality are affected by aspects of context at local, national and global levels. These include the level or extent of a climate of support for girls’ schooling, the existence of complementary legal and regulatory frameworks, and state capacity to implement policy and engage the widest range of stakeholders in inclusive dialogue.

Key findings

The evidence reviewed indicates the importance of a mix of combined interventions which work to change institutions. Evidence suggests the following interventions:

  • Resource interventions to support girls’ education (eg. conditional cash transfers or in-kind support) depend on careful targeting of students most unlikely to attend school. Complementary in-kind health interventions can enhance enrolment and may result in learning gains for girls and boys.
  • Infra-structural interventions (eg. sanitation, school building) improve enrolment and potentially learning but more research is needed to show how.
  • Interventions for institutional change require well trained teachers, gender equitable schools and administrators.
  • Interventions to shift gender norms are under-researched. Girls’ clubs, engaging faith communities, working with boys, and strategies to include marginalised women in decision-making appear promising.

Other resources:

An evidence brief of this review is also available to download.


Elaine Unterhalter is a Professor of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, University of London. She works on themes concerned with gender, race and class inequalities and their bearing on education. Her specialist interests are in the capability approach and human development and education in Africa, particularly South Africa. Her current concerns are with education, poverty and global social justice.

Other reviews in the series

This review is part of a series of DFID education rigorous literature reviews. Other reviews in this series include: