Over the course of 13 years, in Brazil, the number of women enrolled in institutions of higher education grew 22% more than the number of men.
During the period 1991-2004, the number of female university students rose 181%, compared with 148% for male students, according to data released by the Brazilian National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP).
According to Dirce Grosz, projects manager in the Special Secretariat of Women’s Policies, the increase in women’s schooling began to be verified in the decade of the 1980’s.
She said that there are no studies to account for the phenomenon of the explosion in female enrollment, but there are several possible explanations.
"The percentage of women in the population is larger, especially from the age of 20 on. There are more women concluding secondary school than there are men. And, at the same time, women are seeking qualifications to get better positions on the job market and in the working world,"
Grosz points out. "Women are waking up to the struggle for their rights and their space. They are starting to question the roles assigned to them by society up to now, namely taking care of the family," she added.
Between 1991 and 2004, the number of female enrollments increased from 833,000 to 2.3 million, while male enrollments rose from 731 thousand to 1.8 million. Grosz contends that this enrollment differential means that women are better qualified. The higher level of schooling, however, has not been sufficient to overcome the salary differential between men and women.
"If we look at the studies, women receive up to 60% of what men are paid to do the same work, in the same job, at the same time. This is a major battle that we are waging and that society as a whole, men and women, should be waging, in order to establish equality of space, power, and work for men and women," she alerts.
Dilvo Ristoff, director of Higher Education Statistics at the INEP, concurs with Grosz’s analysis. He goes on to say, however, that this phenomenon reveals a problem in the Brazilian educational system: male school-leaving, due to work demands, beginning in the second phase of fundamental education and worsening the farther along one is on the educational ladder.
If the numerical difference in enrollment between the two genders amounted to 132,000 in 1991, it now stands at 529 thousand. 56% of those currently enrolled in undergraduate courses are women, in a society in which women represent 50.7% of the population.
"When the figures exceed the percentage that exists in the society, something appears to be wrong. If men go to work at a younger age and want to continue to work, and they are poor, as is true of 25% of the more than nine million secondary school students, they will have a hard time. This constitutes a very big motivation to leave school," Ristoff points out.
The INEP director says that it is frequently the case that men in these conditions lack money to pay for a private university and don’t have time to prepare themselves for public university entrance examinations.
For this reason, Ristoff recognizes the importance of policies such as the Ministry of Education’s University for All Program (ProUni), making universities more accessible to needier segments of the population and thus offering the possibility of reducing the enrollment differential between men and women.