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Gender Equity in Education: A Renewed Commitment*
For more than three decades, the term “gender” has circulated internationally in different areas. There is no one single definition and debates continue on its meaning and political implications. However, regardless of the definition used, all allude to four fundamental issues:
- There is no biological or “natural” reason for the social, economic,
cultural and power differences between men and women. The subjective
characteristics and the roles that are attributed to each are the result of
a complex social order that attaches specific language according to the era,
the culture and different groups.
- “Gender” is not synonymous with “women”, although the majority of
studies and policies in this area have focused on them. Rather, gender
refers to the manner in which the social conditions of men and women are
constructed and manifested, as well as the relationship between men and
women in different contexts.
- Gender issues interact with other social issues such as class,
ethnicity, age, etc -- all of which are key elements for building the
structure and dynamics of a society. Gender analysis should take into
account this complexity.
- No society has assigned equal value to the characteristics attributed to women or what is considered feminine as those attributed to men or what is considered masculine. There is a clear hierarchical order with masculine predominance.
For this reason, those who use the concept of gender as a topic for analysis and/or view it as an ethical and political principal assume that the inequalities between men and women should be changed in order to create a democratic and just society. This belief has been the driving force behind the creation of many initiatives, establishment of institutions and transformation of rules and cultural values.
When discussing issues related to gender inequalities, no one doubts that education is the key to implementing profound and sustained change in the models, values and relationships that continue to produce inequalities.
Historically, the first step has been to stimulate and ensure that both genders have access to all levels of education and fields of knowledge, a goal that is already being fulfilled in some countries. However, evidence shows that this equality alone is not enough if at the same time substantial changes are not made in the curriculum, teaching practices, textbook content, and general daily school activities, otherwise known as the “hidden curriculum”.
Education must question stereotypes and sexist prejudices, provide opportunities and conditions for boys and girls to discover and develop their interests and abilities, convey representative knowledge of the human experience, and stimulate solidarity and mutual respect between genders.
Producing these changes is not a simple task as policies and programs that have been implemented in both developed and developing countries illustrate. Nevertheless, it is important to encourage informed and motivated teachers to participate in non-sexist, co-educational or equal opportunity training opportunities.
Many teachers have begun to implement educational models with hopes of expanding the horizons of future generations as well as creating a more just and unified world and they would like to share their experiences. Others would like training and support to bring about necessary change. We must respond to these needs and increase understanding of this issue if concrete steps are to be made towards creating a more productive, cooperative and enjoyable co-existence between men and women.?
Coordinator for Gender, Society and Policy
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.