Higher education in Eritrea has expanded dramatically in the last two decades, and the enrolment of students in tertiary education has increased significantly. Laudable progress has been made in the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those concerning health, education and gender equality, and the government is determined to create an environment where men and women have equal access to education, including higher education. Eritrea has been successful in its efforts to achieve UN’s SDG 4, which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, and SDG 5, which is “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”
Before Eritrea’ independence, females were at a considerable disadvantage in terms of access to education. But the government has made efforts to universalize education and to ensure gender equality in education. As a result, the provision of educational opportunities to disadvantaged groups has increased tremendously and gender disparity has decreased to a great extent. The government understands that the elimination of gender disparity at all levels of the education system is an important step in realizing sustainable socio-economic development.
Without the participation of women, any development project can be neither realized nor sustained. That is why ensuring girls’ full and equal access to education, especially in secondary schools and colleges, has become a major policy guideline of Eritrea. Education, especially higher education, empowers women to be self-reliant and active participants in the socio-economic development of their country.
Women’s enrollment in higher education has increased tremendously over the years. It began rising with the expansion of higher education in 2004/2005. Eritrea’s commitment to gender equality is reflected in various policy and legal documents. Regarding gender, the Macro Policy of Eritrea (1994) states that “the equal rights of women will be upheld and all laws that subtract from this right will be changed. Participation of women in education and economic activities and employment will be expanded.”
Similarly, the National Charter (1994) states that “Eritrea must be a country where both genders live in equality, harmony and prosperity.”
As part of its commitment to close the gender gap in enrollment in higher education institutions, the government has drawn up appropriate policies. It uses an affirmative action which gives women preferential treatment for admission to higher education and issued the first National Policy on Gender and Action Plan in 2000. Moreover, the Ministry of Education has published important policy documents such as the National Policy on Education (2003) which was reviewed in subsequent years, Eritrea’s National Gender Policy in Education and Strategic Framework of Action (2004), Education Sector Development Plan (2013) and Education Sector Plan (2018). Together the policy documents addressing gender issues have helped to narrow down gender disparities in education.
While gender equality is a mission that is present across all 17 SDGs, it is explicitly addressed in SDG 5: achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This goal can only be achieved by encouraging women to attend higher education, and women’s equal access to quality and relevant education must be achieved if Eritrea is to reap the full benefits of education.
A system of higher education that prepares young women to join the workforce, improve productivity, and help bring about economic transformation could play a critical role in moving forward Eritrea’s socio-economic transformation. Gender gap in higher education is gradually, but surely, narrowing down. The female to male ratio at four Eritrean institutions of higher education in the 2022/2023 academic year in all fields is encouraging. The numbers tell a lot about the change in perception, attitudes and behaviors towards women in the society. They are also reminders about a critical need to address gender inequalities in engineering.
Gender equality is critical for Eritrea to successfully undertake the demanding job of nation building, and it is true that there are more women today with access to higher education and at workplaces. Indeed, Eritrean women and girls are widening their opportunities and the territory of their rights. They earn equal salaries as men and participate equally in many professions. However, gender equality is not only about enrolment in higher education and employment at work places. Women’s enrollment in colleges needs to be assessed in terms of the fields of studies they are specializing in and their employment should be evaluated in terms of the posts they hold at work places.
As education is a fundamental human right for all Eritrean citizens, efforts to achieve a just and sustainable future can only succeed by upholding the rights of women to access to higher education. Increased participation of women in higher education is the route to economic independence of women, and Eritrean colleges have been a positive force in the journey towards gender equality. The achievement of gender equality in higher education will help fully realize the human rights of women and bring about sustainable development.