Education holds the power to form the understanding, attitudes and the behaviour of individuals. It is used as a tool for the promotion of national identities and can enhance the privilege of certain groups in the society (Smith, 1991), including men’s power over women. Gender roles and inequalities are reproduced, formed, defined, strengthened and promoted by educational institutions through implicit and explicit means.
While research has focused on unequal access to education and differences in enrolment rate for girls and boys, the way curriculum and textbooks can position boys and girls unequally and constructs them as gendered subjects must be explored as well (Durrani, 2008). Textbooks signify what it means to be a child in a specific context, which encompasses learning gender identity through socialization (Kereszty, 2009). Textbooks at elementary level are particularly crucial as they shape the factual knowledge of skills children are to supposed to acquire, which can be different for girls and boys and can set the base for gender stereotyping(Kereszty, 2009).
In the case of Pakistan, gender disparities have been found in the curricula and textbooks(Durrani, 2008; UNESCO, 2004). In Pakistan, the national identity espoused in school textbooks gives learners an “understanding of relative positioning of religion and gender in relation to nationhood” (Durrani, 2008). In a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects, it was found that the national curriculum reflects a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects (UNESCO, 2004). In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.
In another study with a smaller sample size, the representation of women in illustrations was likewise found to be minimal, with 21.4% of illustrations portraying women and the rest portraying men (Durrani, 2008). Gender bias in language was also observed with ‘he’ and ‘him’ being used as a noun more often as ‘she’ or ‘her’.
The context in which women are represented in the Pakistani textbooks is similarly gendered. When female icons are talked about, they are shown as helpless, tolerant, pious and domesticated figures supporting their husbands (Durrani, 2008; Ullah & Skelton, 2012). The textbooks depict women in stereotypical gender roles- cooking, cleaning, washing dresses, raising children and taking the lead in domestic chores. Representation of females in professional life is also confined to a limited variety including school teachers and doctors, primarily (UNESCO, 2004; Durrani, 2008; Ullah & Skelton, 2012).
The way in which the unequal representation of women in textbooks is producing gender identities and hierarchies is demonstratedin a study by Durrani (2008). The methodology comprised asking a sample of students to draw the image of “us” (Pakistanis); none of the drawings by male students were of women. As for female students, there were some drawings of females, however, these images showed women undertakingstereotyped activities such as cooking. The students were also asked to pick an icon from the textbooks, and only 4.1% of the male students selected a female icon. In contrast, the girls who picked female icons shared that they did so because she was a “good wife or mother ” (Durrani, 2008).
The discussion around these differences in representation and discrimination in school textbooks is important, as it has an impact on children’s life choices as well as motivation (Ullah & Skelton, 2012). Students develop their self-esteem and identity according to the gendered role models they are exposed to(Campbell, 2010). Curricula hold the power to “naturally” orientatewomen towards certain careers (Griffith, 2010). This is consistent with research conducted in Pakistan, which find that girls view doctors and teachers as role models in professions they can aspire to, whereas very few go for non-traditional jobs as pilots or engineers, for example (UNESCO, 2004; Ullah & Skelton, 2012).
A way to address this gap is to increase the number of female authors of schools textbooks. Studies show that in cases where textbooks were written by female authors, there was a higher representation and frequency of female icons (Durrani, 2008; UNESCO, 2004). Authors can also be sensitized towards these biases and trained to be more gender sensitive in their writing. Furthermore, teachers can be trained to identify and counter gender bias in the textbooks and encourage their students to do the same.
Campbell, E. (2010). Women in the history’s textbooks.
Durrani, N. (2008). Schooling the ‘other’: the representation of gender and national identities in Pakistani curriculum texts. Compare: A Journal of Comparative, 595-610.
Griffith, A. L. (2010). Persistence of women and minorities in STEM field majors: Is it the school that matters. Economics of Education Review,, 911-922.
Kereszty, O. (2009). Gender in Textbooks. Practice and Theory in Systems of Education, 1-7.
Smith, A. D. (1991). National Identity . Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press.
Ullah, H., & Skelton, C. (2012). Gender representation in the public sector schools textbooks of Pakistan. Educational Studies, 183-194.
UNESCO. (2004). Books, Gender Analysis of School Curriculum and Text. Islamabad: UNESCO, Islamabad.
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