January 21, 2022—As gender disparities in education persist and continue to undermine girls’ opportunities, a new review finds that significant knowledge gaps remain in our understanding of which interventions are most likely to work and improve girls’ education and skills.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Population Council and published in Campbell Systematic Reviewsassessed evidence from 82 experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of interventions conducted in low- and middle-income countries and published between 2004 and 2020.

In a novel approach, the authors focused on interventions designed—either explicitly or implicitly—to address gender-related barriers to education for girls. Gender-related barriers are factors that prevent girls from enrolling, attending, fully taking part and/or learning in school. By examining education outcomes of interventions targeted at gender inequity, the review brings together two often divergent areas of research.

The authors found evidence for several promising approaches. These include interventions that address financial barriers (such as the ability to afford tuition, fees, school materials), lack of adequate food, insufficient academic support, lack of access to schools, and schools’ lack of water and sanitation, especially toilets.

However, there remain significant evidence gaps for many other interventions. There are too few evaluations that measure the impact of education outcomes of interventions that tackle school-related gender-based violence, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancy as well as those that provide sports programs, sexuality education, and menstrual health supplies. While some of these interventions have demonstrated effects on other indicators such as health or violence, rigorous studies that examine gender disaggregated effects on education are scarce and sometimes non-existent.

Moreover, most interventions are complex multi-component programs, making it difficult to determine which components are the most important drivers of improvements in girls’ education outcomes. Variations in how programs are conducted as well as different gender-related barriers between settings make it difficult to compare interventions. The authors also found a lack of studies looking at pathways linking the interventions to education outcomes and reveal that too few studies disaggregate results by sex.

To carry out the review, the authors constructed a conceptual framework linking gender-related barriers to education with education outcomes. The study classified gender-related aspects of the community, school, and household environments into 18 barriers and outlined interventions targeting the barriers to frame the diversity of potential interventions and contexts. This provides a lens with which to examine barriers and possible solutions previously not precisely defined nor systematically reviewed in the literature.

The review presents clear implications for future critical research. “We need more evidence on the educational impact of many interventions currently undertaken. Research should disentangle the effects of different approaches in multi-component programs as well as understand the pathways between interventions and their effects on education outcomes. It’s also essential that studies include sufficient sample sizes to disaggregate results by sex,” said Nicole Haberland, senior associate at the Population Council. “The findings from this study inform a research agenda that should be an urgent priority for the gender and education field.”

Read the paper in Campbell Systematic Reviews and learn more about the Council’s work on Girls’ Education.