The effort to educate the world’s poor is making strides with the United Nation’s new commitment to education, as well as the resourcefulness of people who see a need for their communities. The U.N. proposes that 90% of children have been reached. However, the majority of students are boys and many children who do not attend school are girls.
Getting to school is not the only challenge for girls. Part of the problem are the curricula’s textbooks that depict gender inequality. This is evident in countries like Thailand, Pakistan, Bengal and Kenya.
The stories, images or examples either do not include women or describe them in submissive, traditional roles like cleaning, cooking and serving men. The men are depicted as the ones who hold positions as political leaders, drivers, teachers or doctors. Often, history books leave out influential women in history or do not accurately portray the lives of women. For example, a Thai book shows only a man receiving a land title, when in reality a large portion of the women hold their own land titles. While these biases are subtle, studies have shown that they still reinforce negative stereotypes of women.
Rae Blumberg, who has done extensive research on gender relations in textbooks, insists that “When girls don’t see themselves in textbooks, they’re less likely to envision themselves doing great things.” There are already low percentages of women working in government and leadership positions in these poor nations. The textbooks only “reinforce, legitimate and reproduce patriarchal gender systems” that keep women out of these positions.
The lack of accurate portrayals of women in these positions can discourage young girls from getting an education or trying hard in class. However, educating women and young girls is the key to raising communities out of poverty. For instance, by keeping young girls in school, child marriage can be reduced. There are links between education and lower birth rates and birth mortality. Education can also protect children from diseases and malnutrition through the provision of health information, such as prevention techniques. With an education, girls can make a living and be positive contributors to their community, the economy and their family.
It is important to keep young girls in school. While changing cultural norms that prevent girls from attending school will take time, addressing bias in textbooks is a reasonable start. By replacing the textbooks or having conversations about the bias, more girls can succeed in getting an education that will hopefully eliminate gender biases.
– Katherine Hewitt