Sub-goal 3: Equal education

Today, there are no formal differences between women and men when it comes to access to education. Instead, it is important to pay attention to the different conditions and opportunities for girls and boys, women and men when it comes to education.

Students in white lab coats who work with liquid in test tubes.

The third policy goal concerns ensuring that women and men have equal opportunities and conditions regarding education, choice of study, and personal development.

Schools play a crucial role in laying the foundation for a gender-equal society and combating traditional gender roles. Gender-equal education encompasses the entire formal education system, ranging from preschool to adult education, vocational colleges, universities, and colleges. Education and training outside the formal education system are also included, such as folk high schools and educational activities offered by study associations.

Education is gender-segregated

Girls and boys, women and men, often study in different educational programmes. Few programmes have a balanced gender distribution. There are several explanations for this gender segregation, which exist at the societal, organisational, and individual levels. The choice of education by girls and boys influences their later career choices. Therefore, young people's early educational choices affect women's and men's future opportunities for livelihood, independence, and influence in society.

The gender distribution is greater in college preparatory programmes than in vocational programmes. Something that often influences students' choices along with their gender is their parents' educational level and occupational background. Children of low-educated parents more often enroll in vocational programs. Vocational programmes are often clearly female-dominated, such as the Health and Social Care program associated with women. Examples of male-dominated programmes are the Technology program and the Construction program.

Other factors influencing young people's education choices include the gender coding of occupations and subjects, discriminatory subject cultures and norms, the study environment, interests and abilities, social interactions, factors in the labour market, information, and career guidance. It is common for many factors to interact.

Girls have better grades but worse health

Girls, as a group, perform better in school than boys. During the school year 2021-22, girls in elementary school had on average 10 percent higher grades than boys. However, the group that has shown the most improvement in their grades in recent years is boys in grade 9 with highly educated parents.

Girls experience higher demands on themselves than boys do, and these demands come from others but especially from themselves. They are more stressed and have poorer mental health. Girls also feel less security and belonging in school compared to boys.

School-related stress has increased among Swedish students in recent decades. Today, four out of five girls report feeling quite or very stressed by schoolwork. Half of all boys experience similar stress.

78 percent of girls aged 15 feel quite or very stressed by schoolwork. The corresponding figure for boys is 51 percent.

Harassment and sexual harassment

Exposure to insecurity and discomfort in school affects students' well-being and performance. Girls are frequently subjected to sexual, verbal, and physical harassment, which has become an almost normalised part of school life. Boys' vulnerability often involves being part of a community where verbal and physical harassment and a tough tone are common to establish hierarchies and social bonds among boys.

Students who report bullying behaviour seem to receive more justice than those who report discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment. Therefore, there is a risk that girls may less frequently receive justice because their reports are not investigated as often as boys', or because they are of a different nature.

It is important for adults who encounter children and young people to have knowledge of how to respond to those that are subjected to sexual harassment. Preschool, school, and student health services have a significant responsibility to work early on for gender equality and against gender-stereotypical norms. In the school curriculum, there is a knowledge area called Sexuality, Consent, and Relationships. This area should help make students aware of various power structures in society and strengthen their ability to make conscious and independent choices.

Unequal conditions in higher education

Women make up the majority of students in higher education. However, slightly more men than women study in doctoral programmes. Moreover, men dominate the higher positions in universities, as only three out of ten professors are women.

Harassment due to gender is a common form of vulnerability in academia. It poses a serious threat to individuals' health, study environment, and work environment. Altogether, this means that women's and men's conditions and opportunities vary when it comes to higher education, career, and research opportunities.

A strategic measure to counteract unequal conditions in colleges and universities is the JiHU mission, Gender Equality Integration in Higher Education and Research. This means that colleges and universities should work systematically with gender equality throughout their operations and at all levels of decision-making. Universities are also tasked with, among other things, working on broadened recruitment to increase gender equality in academia.

Challenges for gender-equal education

Today, more and more people have greater knowledge about the structures and processes that shape the conditions for education. Despite this, the Swedish Gender Equality Agency observes that there are still significant problems with inequality. In terms of the education sector, work is needed to:

  • Counteract gender differences in educational choices and break gender segregation in the field of education.
  • Improve academic performance and reduce gender differences in both academic performance and the transition to higher education.
  • Enhance students', especially girls', mental health.
  • Prevent and combat sexual harassment and improve both students' and staff's study environment and work environment.


Publication date: 7 January 2022

Last updated: 31 May 2024