Two out of three countries in the world face gender disparities in primary and secondary education, and as many as half will not achieve the goal of gender parity in education by 2015, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization found in its new Global Education Digest, which focuses on gender and education.
"This new data tells us that we need to reaffirm our commitment to education and gender equality," UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement. "The advances made in improving girls' and women's access to education and training over the past decades risk being undermined by reductions in international aid and national investments as the world struggles to cope with interlocking crises. Yet, we all know that compromising the education of girls and women will only lead to more vulnerability and reinforce the vicious cycle of poverty."
The report predicts that in only 85 countries, boys and girls will have equal access to primary and secondary education by 2015, while 72 are not likely to reach the goal -- one of six set by world leaders at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000.
The report was launched Friday in Paris on the eve of a major U.N. summit that starts Monday in New York and is aimed at discussing the Millennium Development Goals, the anti-poverty targets for 2015.
UNESCO found that all over the world, girls are less likely to enter primary school than boys, but they quickly achieve more than their male counterparts once they get access to education. In many countries, boys tend to drop out of school more than girls and are also more likely to repeat primary grades.
The findings for secondary education are similar, with disadvantages for girls when it comes to access, but with more success once girls are in school.
When it comes to tertiary education, around 25 percent more girls than boys are enrolled in universities in rich countries such as the United States and Russia, and in several South American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
However, in low-income countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Niger, there are fewer than 35 female university students for every 100 of their male counterparts.
UNESCO earlier this month warned about the persisting problem of illiteracy, saying 759 million adults worldwide lack minimum reading and writing skills.