Four women smile and hold an orange card with the title gender equality

Higher education plays a critical role in advancing gender equity and equality. 

For more than 30 years, the ACU has worked to address gender issues – such as championing women in leadership and combating sexual violence on campus – in partnership with our member universities.

In 1985 we initiated the ACU Women's Programme, developed with the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNESCO, to support and enhance the leadership of women in higher education. Workshops for women were run across the Commonwealth and, between 1998 and 2001, the ACU sponsored women from Ghana, Guyana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Trinidad to undertake an MA in Women and Management in Higher Education. 

In 2015 the ACU partnered with the University Grants Commission (UGC) of Sri Lanka to build capacity in state universities on gender equity and equality. To tackle ragging (abusive initiation rituals), the UGC established a taskforce and created an online complaints portal, emergency safety app, brochures and animations in three languages for new students. The ACU supported the project with workshops for senior management and staff.

The fight for gender equality has evolved over the last 30 years, and we continue to adapt our approach to meet the needs of our members. In 2020, Queen's University, Canada, received an ACU Gender Grant for an action research project – the first of its kind in Canada – that will explore how education programmes can support teacher candidates who are transgender and gender non-conforming, whilst recognising that many LGBTQ+ teacher candidates also face barriers to joining the profession. 

Illustration Of Woman And Man Holding An Arrow

Support for ACU members

The ACU is committed to supporting our members to advance gender equity and equality.


These are just some of the institutions and individuals across the Commonwealth who are driving forward progress for gender equity and equality within their areas of expertise. 

When Associate Professor of Gender and Development Studies, Grace Wamue-Ngare, became Director of the Centre for Gender Equity and Empowerment at Kenyatta University, Kenya, she knew she had to do something to address the growing problem of sexual harassment.

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Associate Professor Of Gender And Development Studies, Grace Wamue Ngare At The Launch Of The SGBV App

Beyond being a teacher and researcher, Dr Mercy Derkyi is a mentor figure driven to build an inclusive landscape for climate action and determined help others succeed. She spearheaded the establishment of a new Gender and Climate Centre at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ghana, which today continues to grow and diversify.

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Mercy Derkyi portrait

Heriot-Watt University, UK, supported over 50 staff and students to take part in ‘no-bystander’ training. The workshops focused on raising awareness of gender-based violence, understanding a victim-led approach to disclosing incidents and how to step in and intervene safely.

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Brooke Cagle Uhvrvdr7pg Unsplash

Mavis Akuffobea-Essilfie is passionate about doing research that investigates how climate change puts rural women at greater risk, and how to empower the women most vulnerable to climate change.

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Mavis and stakeholders

At Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, the majority of the current professoriate and senior management positions are held by men. To support the career advancement of emerging female academics, the Propping Emerging Female Academics (PropEFA) programme was launched in September 2019.

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Midlands State University

Dr Catherine Abiola Akinbami's research shed light on the different vulnerabilities and developmental needs of rural women in Nigeria. She has successfully connected her research with policy making by engaging local stakeholders from a range of government ministries. 

Catherine Abiola Akinbami
Catherine Akinbami group photo in village
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Theme: Access and inclusion