Today more girls than ever go to school. However, despite progress, women and girls continue to face multiple barriers based on gender and its intersections with other factors, such as age, ethnicity, poverty, and disability, in the equal enjoyment of the right to quality education. This includes barriers, at all levels, to access quality education and within education systems, institutions, and classrooms, such as, amongst others.
The international community has recognised the equal right to quality education of everyone and committed to achieving gender equality in all fields, including education, through their acceptance of international human rights law. This means that states have legal obligations to remove all discriminatory barriers, whether they exist in law or in everyday life, and to undertake positive measures to bring about equality, including in access of, within, and through education.
Gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping underpin or exacerbate many of the obstacles faced by women and girls in enjoying their right to education. Ideally, education systems should be focal points for action to combat gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping. However, in some cases, the education system, and particularly the curriculum, textbooks, and teachers, play a role in perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes, which has wide ranging effects on girls throughout their lives, from the course options and subjects they take, which influences their employment prospects, to their ability to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
It’s a happy teachers’ day for many but not all. For a few, and there are quite few of them, for whom being a ‘teacher’ defined everything they could never become. Where they were pigeonholed into set stereotyped roles which were acceptable as – ideal job for women. A job of convenience for others, for women who were ambitious and career oriented. In the swathe of our massive ‘moralistic’ middle class, a career option deemed suitable for a woman because it was and is seen to be less demanding with shorter hours and by that sheer virtue, more compatible with household and child care responsibilities.
The result of that career choice has not just impacted so many women who culled their career dreams for the only option available. The impact of it has been cascading on the basic ‘tenets’ of education. Where children were taught by women who were never quite interested in the job of an educator.
It is evident that women are over represented in the education sector, it’s something we have never questioned or really thought about. At the level of government policy when it was decided to increase enrolment of girls in school, it was decided that there be at least one female teacher in every primary school. To further this goal, many teacher training centres were set up exclusively for women. Women teachers were given incentives. This should have been great incentive to women who truly wanted to teach, but in addition to government policies, societal patriarchal compulsions slug the albatross around the neck of most women who wanted a career. For the rest of the women, it was a rather comfortable option that combined paid work with household work. It meant shorter work hours that coincided with their children’s school, so they were back with the kids to pick up the household chores they started in the morning. It meant long vacations that again coincided with the kids’ vacations. It meant that the husband would never have to ‘adjust’ or work around her work hours. The piece all so perfectly fit in the big middle class patriarchal puzzle.
As per the data from the education department, more than 80% of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are women. The gender imbalance is glaring in elementary and middle schools, where more than two-thirds of teachers are women. What’s more is that the pay scale is mostly gender skewed in favour of male teachers.
Harmful gender stereotypes and wrongful gender stereotyping also affect girls in the school environment. For example, stereotypes about the different physical and cognitive abilities of girls and boys, leads to certain school subjects and teaching methods being gendered. Boys are considered better suited to maths, technology, the sciences, and sports whereas girls are considered better suited to the arts and humanities. This has the effect of excluding girls and boys from certain subjects (sometimes, particularly in gender-segregated schools, certain subjects are not even offered to female students) but also has a detrimental effect on girls’ further educational and employment opportunities, as girls and boys go on to study different subjects at university, where ‘male’ subjects tend to lead to more lucrative and influential careers. Gender inequality is then perpetuated through hiring practices that further disadvantage women.