What is women's education

THE magazine for adult education

Women's education between compulsory and freestyle

Numbers - theses - questions

Sylvia Kade, Angela Franz-Balsen, Susanne Offenbartl

Sylvia Kade is head of the project "Self-organized learning in old age", Dr. Angela Franz-Balsen is a scientific lecturer, Dr. Susanne Offenbartl is the head of the project "Adult educators learn self-directed with innovative documents", all at the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) in Frankfurt / M.

Where is further training for women headed? On the one hand supply and demand have differentiated, on the other hand they have drastically reduced. But it still applies: Education is a free choice for women and a duty for men. A look at neighboring countries shows that this does not necessarily have to be the case and raises a number of questions. - Sylvia Kade, Angela Franz-Balsen and Susanne Offenbartl provide differentiated insights and ask relevant questions.

Major changes in further education for women are described: the number of programs has been decreasing, the topics and themes diversifying. Statistical data and analyzes are presented and a number of questions raised. A comparison between Germany and its neighboring countries suggests that what seems lamentable from inside appears to be a homemade problem.


Participation in further training by women

Since 1979, the Federal Government's "Reporting System for Further Education" has been documenting changes in women's education participation: the overall participation rate in further education among 19 to 65 year old women reached the highest level in 1994 at 40% and was almost the same as the male participation rate (44%) . A total of 19.9 million adults - or 42% - took part in further training (p.12). However, there are clear gender-specific preferences. While women take part in general continuing education offers more frequently (28%) than men (24%), the ratio is exactly the opposite in continuing vocational education: men have a clear lead (28%) over women (19%).

However, the lower participation of women in further training in vocational training is not considered to be an expression of lower interest, but rather a consequence of the social division of labor: According to the official interpretation, it is a result of the lower participation of women in the labor market, because only every second woman, but three out of four men employed. In addition, a high proportion of women work part-time, but the participation rate in part-time positions lags behind the rate of full-time employees (36%) by a third (24%). Among the full-time employees, on the other hand, the rate of further training for women (35%) hardly deviates from that of men (36%). The east-west comparison also provides indications that there is still untapped qualification potential among women. Because women in the new federal states take part in further vocational training far more often than women in the old federal states, although the employment rate among east German women has declined since 1991. The structural effect, which was negative for further training, was more or less overcompensated by the East German women (on East-West differences, see also the interview with Veronica Pahl in this issue).

It is noticeable that the employment of women also strengthens their willingness to participate in general and not only in vocational further training, because 35% of employed, but only 28% of non-employed women attend general further training courses - this applies to both East and West German women , but much more frequently for the latter. After all, 35% of employed women in the west, but only 24% in the east, take part in general further training courses. Obviously, many of the women who have been displaced from the labor market have given up or do not have the money to participate.

But is the interpretation that women-specific learning motives are primarily dependent on the level of labor force participation the only possible one? Doesn't the situation look different if - as in this issue - the question of what is being promoted, what preferences women have and what opportunity structures are best suited to them or what barriers stand in the way of women's education today are examined?

Offers for women and demand from women using the example of VHS statistics and a program analysis

The adult education center statistics, which have been kept in DIE for many years and - like the continuing education reporting system - show developments over time, allow a more specific look at women's demand for educational opportunities than the continuing education reporting system.

However, the adult education center statistics have only differentiated between men and women as participants since the mid-80s, for an allegedly participant-oriented adult education this is a sign of their (earlier?) Forgetfulness of everyday life and gender blindness.

The sex-specific data of the VHS statistics, which has been collected for around 10 years, is based on the almost complete recording of all occupancy of individual VHS according to gender (and age). The compilation of the gender distribution in course events according to subject areas initially documents the majority of female participants in the entire adult education center: women make up 75% of the audience. Over 50% of all subject areas are requested by women. Evaluated according to the priority of the topics, the figures then reveal what is also common as everyday theory: women are most interested in non-job-oriented offers. The front runner is health education (see the article by Angela Venth in this issue), followed by further training in home economics, artistic and manual design and courses in education, psychology and philosophy. Of course, women also learn foreign languages, but they are not interested in gaining school-leaving qualifications. On the basis of these rough data, the gender comparison comes to a head towards a confrontation between leisure education for women and qualification education for men, or in other words: education is a free choice for women, but an obligation for men.

It is striking that a few years after the fall of the Wall, the data in the new and old federal states have almost converged, the difference being less than 1%. In the mid-1990s, women here and there had identical demands on VHS education - this astonishing finding could only be illustrated by qualitative research.

Since women's education has existed, the special course offers for women have been listed separately in the VHS statistics; they make up 2.7% of the total offer, as an indirect expression of the demand for education exclusively for women, a remarkably low proportion. But it does not yet provide any information about the nature of the offers. With the more meaningful method of program analysis (cf.Nolda 1998), two random samples were therefore carried out in the DIE (1997 and 1999), which covered current topics / contents of events for women and men, their numerical ratio, and differences between the old and new federal states and should provide information about the first signs of gender-oriented education (cf. Kenk 1999). In the programs of 20 or 16 (1999) larger cities from all over Germany, all event offers were selected that were identified as gender-specific by subject area, title or target group definition: If this gender-related offer is set at 100%, there is a (disproportionate) ratio in 1997 of 96% offers for women compared to a proportion of 4% for men, the few titles that can be categorized as gender education (ie women and men or the gender ratio are mentioned in the title) are a negligible quantity.

The evaluation resulted in the following categories for the content, presented in the order of priority: women’s topics, health, job / money, culture / politics, migrants, technology and far behind men’s topics. While the men's issues deal primarily with being a man, the proportion of women's issues that are devoted to women as women or which even strike feminist tones has become low. There is still a clear deficit approach, which primarily characterizes job-oriented, but also leisure-oriented offers (example: "breakdown course" and "creative welding for women" versus "cooking and sewing for men"). But it no longer stands on its own. A lot of self-confidence and independence is conveyed. The social reality of the breakaway of derived livelihood and old-age security for women through husbands is reflected in a multitude of new topics in the money / job category (example: "Goldmarie and Crashmarie - savings accounts and shares", "Women and old-age insurance"). The changed social reality of the new federal states reflect the issues there, here some things are made up for (example: "Oriental dance - why not in Gera too?") And many things are adjusted in retrograde ("This is how I act convincingly as a woman").

Lines of development can be described as the fact that the women's domain of health education is experiencing a slump and that new topics enrich the offer for women that are directly related to current social developments: for example, the topic of the Internet and (still to a lesser extent) Agenda 21.

Overall, a drastic decline in the number of offers for women can be observed in the 1997/1999 comparison, which cannot be compensated for by a few new gender issues in 1999. Even if external factors such as health care reform and shrinking budgets are a possible cause, the trends identified raise more questions than they provide answers: What does the choice of women say about their interests and goals? Who defines what is important and what should shape the programs?

Theses on the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of women's discourses

Parallel to these developments among the participants and the educational offers, the women's issue has generally lost its importance, but especially in educational work, although women are no longer disadvantaged compared to men in basic education, as never before have been present in the profession and at all hierarchical levels, their own Have established infrastructures and networks and are represented, audible and visible in all public arenas. Here are some theses as explanatory models for this development are presented in order to clarify the horizon before which women's education operates today:

1. Normalization thesis

The women's movement has shown an effect, the gender discourse has passed into a phase of normalization, but has also lost its potential for disruption. Its effectiveness is precisely reflected in the fact that the younger generation of women hardly ever raises the question of inequality between the sexes. Young women today have a better educational qualification than young men and face them with more knowledge and self-confidence than their female counterparts from previous generations. You will already find a functioning (educational) infrastructure, a comprehensive network of women's equality offices, bookshops, health and cultural centers that represent issues specific to women. The elderly, however, complain: "They have come to terms". The remaining unequal life and development opportunities at work also affect younger women, but they deal with it differently in view of a chronic labor market crisis. They are looking for individual partial solutions, for niches and counter-worlds in which one can live - despite the limited chances of self-realization.

2. polarization thesis

The growing polarization among women into "winners" and "losers" is ultimately seen as an expression of structural normalization in the gender struggle and interpreted in the sense of an equalization of the sexes: women too want power and success. Equal life chances are realized differently among men and women. The objection from their own ranks was therefore inevitable: After the "pioneers" had filled the privileged positions, their involvement in the women's movement also decreased. In general, the polarization and increasing differentiation among women have resulted in a desolidarization effect. Her "fear of success" prevents women from reaching for power.

3. Individualization thesis

Women today have more options when it comes to shaping their lives, female lifestyles and lifestyles have become pluralized, but at the same time shared values ​​and community-building alliances and practices are weakened. The discourse on self-realization turned into a momentous compulsion to choose, which increasingly imposes responsibility for the success of life on the individual woman and interprets failure as personal failure. To the same extent that the compulsion to individualize has generalized for both genders, the normative pressure of expectation among women also increases. Withdrawal tendencies among women are an unmistakable expression of an overstrain syndrome that is rampant among both younger and older women. It is increasingly being processed through education when women are looking for support and orientation.

4. Everyday thesis

The everyday occurrence of gender discourses and the rhetoric of discrimination contributes to their increasing insignificance and dwindling public attention: It has been capped by habituation and appropriation - e.g. in the media. But once the awareness of a problem disappears, the problem itself is by no means solved. The resigned insight is growing among women that after 30 years of engagement in the battle between the sexes, they still haven't got much further than their mothers. The majority of them still do not achieve a position appropriate to the skills and qualifications they have acquired, and emancipation gets stuck halfway through. Expectations of failure are reinforced by setbacks, the spiral of demotivation widens, and the movement "steps on the spot". This also has an effect in the field of education, which is dependent on a sense of achievement: Education for what? is increasingly the question that no one can answer.

5. Men's counter offensives

The inequality between the sexes has masked itself: it is taking on different forms and shapes today. Rather, the men's counter-offensives reproduce unequal life chances for women on a higher scale. Men's associations have renewed their solidarity with refined counter-strategies to the exclusion of women, e.g. the notorious "double leadership" in politics, the hurdle of which is seldom taken by women. Protective rights for women (working time models) increasingly turned into exclusion criteria, and support strategies ("quota") became a boomerang that strikes back against women. The exclusion of women is more subtle on the labor market; they are pushed out of traditional professional domains as soon as a field has become attractive to men on the narrow labor market, e.g. in outpatient care. And the exclusion is taking place through new work organization and time arrangements, through which women are pushed to temporary positions and men are reserved full-time positions. Making work more flexible will be the domain of women and education will be the vehicle with which it will be implemented.

A look beyond the German horizon

A critical look at the numerical developments and the circulating explanatory models must be expanded today to include a look beyond the borders of Germany. A European comparison suggests that the educational situation of women in German-speaking countries is similar, but in France and Sweden, for example, it is completely different (cf. Schütt / Lewin 1998). There, significantly more women than men have the educational requirements for studying and use them to a greater extent.This means that more women than men study and complete their studies. The gender-specific distribution of the subjects corresponds to that in the German-speaking countries, but on a much higher level.

If other educational pathways are included in the comparison, there is a significant lead among women in several countries.

These isolated comparisons of vocational training can certainly not be extrapolated to the entire European continuing education landscape. Nevertheless, they raise the question of how the (German) theses outlined above are to be assessed against the background that in other countries there is obviously a significantly greater participation of women in education.


In view of the very different numbers in Europe, the question arises: what is normal? Are the high numbers of female students in Sweden disproportionate? Are the relatively same school-leaving qualifications in Germany the normality that has finally been achieved? And then how are the figures in France and Great Britain to be interpreted? While female dominance is a tradition in France, is it just emerging in the UK? Which norm is normalization approaching? Statistical mean values ​​and columns of the same size in graphics are not sufficient for the operationalization of social norms.


If fear of success and fear of power prevent women: Are women in other European countries less afraid, or are women more likely to assert themselves in terms of their will for power and success than in Germany? Why are German women frightened homogeneously, so that they do not dare to take advantage of their educational opportunities? Are the general conditions for women in other European countries more differentiated?


Apparently, women in other European countries do not react with an overstrain syndrome to the compulsion to individualize that is spreading there as well, or they find other social support resources.


It is possible that habituation and absorption can be observed in all European countries. The question is what happens then: further development, stagnation or roll back? The question "Education for what?" In any case, does not prevent women from further qualifying themselves. The proportion of female students is increasing across Europe.

Counter-offensives by the men

This mechanism can only take effect if different areas of education and action develop for men and women. Whether this is the case in other countries cannot be concluded from the available figures. However, the number of women participating in the "classic" educational pathways in other European countries indicates that this counter-offensive has its limits there.

The theses on the disappearance of the women's issue persist in the model that women are in a victim role. The women in Germany are portrayed as victims of patriarchal strategies of exclusion and their own psychological dispositions.

This representation in turn raises questions: What image do women themselves have of women? What do the psychological dispositions actually look like? Empirical studies on this ran the risk of being suffocated by the ballast of the discourse. In the discourse about women, on the other hand, models with victim roles and deficit approaches have a long tradition. Is that why the explanatory models have this undertone? What would the situation of these victims look like from the perspective of the learning and living conditions of women in other European countries?



German Institute for Adult Education: Adult Education Center Statistics. Working year 1994. Frankfurt / M. 1995

German Institute for Adult Education: Adult Education Center Statistics. Working year 1997. Frankfurt / M. 1998

Kenk, Martina: "From girlie to power woman" - offers for women in VHS programs, spring 1999. http://www.die-frankfurt.de/esprid/dokumente/kenk99_01.htm

Kuwan, Helmut: Reporting System Further Education VI. First results of the representative survey on the further training situation in the old and new federal states. Bonn 1996

Nolda, Sigrid / Pehl, Klaus / Tietgens, Hans: program analyzes. Frankfurt / M. 1998

Schütt, Inge / Lewin, Karl (eds.): HIS educational pathways of women. From high school to work, Hanover 1998