Despite the growing focus on gender parity in higher education and the fact that in many wealthy nations women outpace men in tertiary enrollments, statistics show that in parts of the developing world, women are still underrepresented. In South and West Asia, for example, only 74 women are enrolled in higher education for every 100 men, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, there are only 62 women enrolled for every 100 men (UNESCO, 2010).
Even in countries where they have achieved parity, women face other issues of inequity and marginalization, from domestic violence to a lack of female leadership in government. While there are no simple solutions for these complex and wide-ranging problems, promoting advanced education for women—particularly those that are devoted to ameliorating such issues at the grassroots level—is a crucial step. Not only does it build the skills and capacities of those working to promote gender equity, it increases their chances of advancing to positions of power from which they can affect change.
As part of its mission to provide higher education access to marginalized communities, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) sought to address gender inequality by providing graduate fellowships to nearly 2,150 women—50% of the IFP fellow population—from 22 countries in the developing world. This brief explores how international fellowship programs like IFP can advance educational, social, and economic equity for women. In addition to discussing the approach the program took in providing educational access and opportunity to women, the brief looks at two stories of alumnae who have not only benefitted from the fellowship themselves, but who are working to advance gender equity in their home communities and countries.Activists, advocates, and practitioners can draw upon the strategies and stories that follow to better understand the meaning of gender equity and advance their own efforts to achieve social justice for women and girls worldwide.