Attacking all forms of gender inequality is vital for modern society. Yet one issue remains concurrent in all cultures and is having a serious impact on female empowerment.
Whilst female illiteracy remains an ongoing issue around the world, optimists will highlight that global initiatives now mean millions more girls are being educated. Indeed, in 2014, for every 100 boys completing primary school, 93 girls also finished their education, significantly narrowing the gender gap.
Is this progress? Certainly, this proves a great stride towards equal opportunities for learning, but whilst we may congratulate ourselves on raising the attendance of girls, it is arguable that we have become woefully ignorant of the ever-pervading gender issue within our schools. The problem lies with our textbooks and worryingly it appears to have no geographic or economic restraints; it affects countries all over the world.
From men being depicted as the strong, masculine breadwinner, to women acting as the docile housewife (that is, if they are even in the book at all) the sexism in textbooks is astounding and is undermining the purpose of the education that young girls receive. By perpetuating archaic myths that the woman’s place is in the home and the role of the man is to be dominant, textbooks demoralise girls to the point that they don’t believe they can progress further in society.
It is not just the stereotypical gender roles that impede female development. An even greater issue is the invisibility of women in the syllabus. Many Pakistani textbook illustrations depict all politicians as males, despite a woman (Benazir Bhutto) serving as their Prime Minister for a total of five years. Similarly, science textbooks have indicated that the only notable female scientist is Marie Curie, and even her contribution was illustrated to be subservient to her husband. This type of teaching effectively rewrites the historical narrative and devalues the contributions of women to society.
With a female Prime Minister, a female Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and more females being promoted to managerial positions, the UK prides itself on shattering glass ceilings and bringing about a gender balance. But what about further down the spectrum? Despite being a forward thinking, first world nation, we too are guilty of ignoring the sporadic sexism in our schools. In a survey of science books, only 13% of characters were female, perpetuating the stereotype that science is a male specialism from which girls are excluded.
Textbooks are the basis of teaching. They form the building blocks upon which education is based, but the hidden messages conveyed to girls is creating an obstacle to development. It is important to acknowledge that progress has been made, with countries like Sweden and Hong Kong leading the charge for gender balance within textbooks. Yet, it is vital that an in-depth global review of educational resources is considered. Textbooks should not perpetuate inaccurate generalisations and instead present a balanced view of the role of women in society. It is the responsibility of all governments to demand this change, because what is the point of giving girls an education if all they learn is backward thinking?