GLOBAL: Women no longer the second sex

Women outnumber men in worldwide university enrolments and graduation rates, according to UNESCO's 2009 Global Education Digest. The number of female students in tertiary education rose six-fold between 1970 and 2007 compared with a quadrupling of male enrolments during the same period.

Tertiary enrolment ratios of men and women reached parity around the year 2003. Since then, the average global participation of females has been exceeding that of males. In 1970, the male-to-female enrolment ratio was 1.6. In 2007, it flipped, with the female-to-male ratio becoming 1.08.

In North America and Europe, a third more women than men are on campus. Latin America, the Caribbean as well as Central Asia also show high rates of female enrolments. In a number of countries, at least two females graduate for every male.

These countries include Bahrain, Barbados, Guyana, Latvia, Myanmar, Estonia, Uruguay, Qatar, Iceland, Panama, Lithuania and Hungary. On the other side of the coin, the countries where a third or less of tertiary graduates are female include Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mauritania, Guatemala, Mozambique, Andorra and Liechtenstein.

Men do outnumber women in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction in all countries for which data were available, with the opposite proving true for the cohort of graduates in education, humanities and arts, social sciences, business and law, and health and welfare where, in almost nine out of 10 countries, women outnumber men.

In the Arab states numbers are almost identical, indicating gender parity, yet with much higher rates of growth for women. The report says that if trends continue, women will soon take the lead in that region as well. This may be partly explained, however, by the fact that a considerable proportion of male university students pursue their education outside their home countries.

Saudi Arabia plans to launch the world's largest women's university in 2010. The rise in female enrolments has also been aided by Saudi Arabia's first coeducational university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

While female enrolments in the Arab states are high, employment is another story. A 2008 study, commissioned by the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation of Saudi Arabian-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, indicated there were only 18 women scientists among the top 381 in the organisation. Furthermore, within science and engineering academies across the world less than 5% of members were women.

Hanan Malkawi, professor of molecular biology and microbiology at Yarmouk University in Jordan and the director of the Unesco Chair for Desert Studies & Desertification Control told University World News that the rise of women university enrolments in Arab states helps dispel what she says are misconceptions that Arab women are suppressed. "The opposite is true, and the Unesco report could well be the instrument that brings this fact to light."

Another Unesco report, this one from 2006, Women in Science: Under-represented and under-measured, also showed that women still have a long way to go to reach parity in employment. It notes that women make up approximately 25% of the world's researchers.

The report said the under-representation of women in research activities could be traced back to education systems, particularly at the higher level. It suggested that other aspects may inder women's access to the continuity and advancement in research positions such as stereotyping, work-life balance, labour market conditions, governance and the role of researchers in society. The report called on decision-makers in the fields of higher education and science and technology policy not to ignore the gender dimension issue.

"It is about time to start planning to make use of the high number of women university graduates," Mamadou Goita, special adviser to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute told University World News. Goita suggested promoting sustainable development through establishing women forums, networks and associations to support women's scientific contributions.

While a majority of countries that have seen female enrolments increase have also seen female employment stall, nevertheless there are still a number of countries with a high rate of female employment. A third of the world's countries have achieved gender parity and that number could rise as female graduates push to take a greater place in the world job market.

Had a cute guy shine my boots this morning! Feels good to be a successful woman who has outdone most men. This is a great change that will bring about content men led by driven women.

Jill Longstreet

Content men led by driven women? The only way a man is content when led by a woman is if he is drunk, on drugs or severely beaten into submission. These statistics can only spell doom for males and masculinity. Women will ultimately do what needs to be done to destroy men. They will have achieved their ultimate goal which has always been to remove males from the planet

Vito Gee