How does Covid-19 affect the gender gap in education and training?

The Covid 19 pandemic hit the education and training sector hard. But not all learners were equally affected. For multiple reasons female learners face disproportionately more hurdles in maintaining their learning progress during school closures in Cambodia. It will be a challenge to reverse this trend now with the reopening of schools in prospect.

Like all the actors in the field of education and training, SDP's work has been strongly affected by various impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. With disadvantaged youth as SDP's main target group and the strong emphasis on gender equality and social inclusion, the development of the gender gap in the context of Covid-19 is of particular interest.

Global impact

To discuss gender inequality in education and training as a whole, one needs to dig a little deeper, as it is closely linked to the labor market, as this article will exhibit. Globally, a majority of employees in hospitality, food service, garment industry and retail are women. These sectors have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, unlike harder than most male-dominated industries. In addition to that, women are more likely to work part-time and 80% of the women in low-income countries work in the informal sector, which is associated with lower wages, less job-security, and no social protection.[1] This indicates that women suffer disproportionately more from the Covid-19-related economic crisis as their job-situation is often less resilient to external shocks. According to ILO calculations, the women's employment rate in Asia and the Pacific declined by 3.8% from 2019 to 2020, while the men's employment rate fell by 2.9%. At a global scale, there were still 13 million fewer women employed worldwide in the first quarter of 2021 than in 2019, while employment figures for men had already recovered to 2019 levels.[2] The IMF, in collaboration with UNDP and UN Women, urges that the widening gender gap requires gender-responsive policies to stop this negative development.[3]

The impact of Covid-19 on the gender inequality in the education sector doesn’t seem to be as obvious as in the labor market at first sight but they are closely connected. Globally, the narrowing gender gap in education indicated progress in the right direction. The pandemic has drastically reversed this trend. Through the economic impact, the financial situation has worsened for many households to a point where they can no longer afford the school fees for their children. UNICEF studies show that, globally, the majority of families, under the limitation of only being able to afford education for one child or some of their children, will choose boys' education over girls' education. School closures may help keeping the pandemic in check, but have significantly worsened the education situation worldwide. At its peak in April 2020, an estimated 1.4 billion learners found themselves stuck at home. This led to a series of negative developments in particular for young women and girls. According to a UNICEF report, not only has there been an increase in domestic violence against girls and women, but there has also been a significant rise in early marriages and teenage pregnancies. Early marriages are mostly considered by their families as a means of overcoming economic hardship, but similar to teenage pregnancies, often result in early school dropout and no incomes on the part of the girls/women.[4]


The hospitality, food services, garment manufacturing and retail sectors, offering employment predominantly to women, form part of the backbone of the Cambodian economy and have been hit harder than other (male-dominated) sectors by the Covid-19- related economic impacts.

All educational institutes have been closed for well over a year by now. Most schools and training centers picked up some form of distance or e-learning to continue the courses. In addition to common challenges, i.e., limited IT skills among trainers, unstable internet connectivity and lack of quality e-learning materials, gender inequality is becoming increasingly apparent. Surveys by various organizations [5],[6] found that distance learning is disproportionately more demanding for female learners than for male learners. One frequently mentioned reason is time management for learning purposes. Girls and young women are expected to engage in housework and unpaid care work for younger siblings and older members of the family. When examining the figures of the Skills Development Programme (SDP) to gauge the impact of these different gender roles, no difference between women and men can be found in the dropout rates, which are overall on the rise. In contrast, the percentage of women among enrolled learners declined significantly during the pandemic. This likely means that fewer young women have registered for the training courses. Even though this development during the pandemic is evident at all of SDP's TVET partner institutions, the extent varies widely. While the PTC Kratie only experienced a decrease in the share of female learners from 42% to 40%, PTC Preah Vihear recorded a decrease in female learners from 72% to 41%. The numbers suggest a clear downwards trend, but it is too early to draw causal conclusions as data is scarce.

Early marriage and teenage pregnancy

CARE International conducted a case study in north-eastern provinces of Cambodia. Findings of their rapid assessment of Covid-19 impacts on girls’ education connect early marriage to the increasing gender inequality in education. Regarding early marriage they recorded conflicting statements. Some interviewees reported marriage was less frequent due to limitations on social gatherings while others believed that the number of early marriages increased because youth can spend more time together outside of school. The study suggests that the prospect of easing lockdown restrictions, in combination with other remaining measurements, will favor an increase in early marriages in the near future. Although the dark figure of early marriages might be high, the actual numbers are currently subject to speculation, as are other causal linkages.[7]


The real impact of Covid-19 on gender inequality in the education sector in Cambodia has yet to be measured and analyzed. However, global trends as well as local anecdotal evidence and qualitative data suggest that action should be taken sooner rather than later to prevent Cambodia's education sector from reversing the achievements of recent years.




[1] ILO (2018): Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture.

[2] ILO (2021): Fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery.

[3] IMF, UN Women, UNDP (2021): Gender Equality and COVID-19: Policies and Institutions for Mitigating the Crisis.

[4] UNICEF (2020): COVID-19 Response: Issue Brief - COVID-19 and Girls’ Education in East Asia and Pacific

[5] UNESCO (2021): Girls’ education and COVID-19: New factsheet shows increased inequalities for the education of adolescent girls.

[6] McKinsey Global Institute (2020): COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects

[7] CARE International (2020): Rapid Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Girls Education.