Fri. Oct 23rd, 2020

Gender biases in Text Books

Taiyaba Muhammad

We are living in the modern era of change and global connectivity. However; human beings are still discriminated on the basis of religion, race, socio-economic status, cultural back ground, language, and gender. Although there is a lot of technological development; but the mindsets of the society is not significantly changed. Gender discrimination and segregation are the parts of our social mentality. For that reason struggle for gender equity and gender equality is not very new in our society. Since education is a social progression so, it represents the norms and culture of the society. Likewise; educational policies, curriculum, and textbooks; mirrors the gender perceptions of the society.Textbook is the most common and widely used tool for teaching learning process. Teachers have strong belief in the authenticity of the textbooks therefore; in most of the public schools it is the only tool for curriculum delivery. Let’s have a look that how gender constructs depicted in the textbooks.

The frequency of male representation is much higher than the female representation in the textbooks. Further the stereotype role distribution is explicit from the content. In the textbooks the activities performed by men are mostly different from female activities; for example driving, farming, construction, long distance walking, cycling. Moreover men are portrayed as doctor, cricketer, businessman, and bread winner for the family; Supporting the expected productive role of a “men” and the gender division of labor. However; the activities done by females are making clothes, stitching, cooking, embroidering the clothes, and putting laces on their dupattas etc. Portraying her as “sinf-e-nazuk” engaged in very delicate activities e.g. decoration, and home making that is very much fit into the typical care giving role expected from a female. In the textbook of mathematics; for each concept more examples of boys than girls were observed but for the concept of zakat it is found that female exemplification was more than male. That represents women as; having sufficient amount of money and gold as her savings. Again it could be an inference that; the areas of interest of women are very limited like; home, clothing, decoration, jewelry and money.

Some similar kind of activities among the males and females are also shown in textbooks like; reading, writing, solving sums of mathematics, and shopping. It gives a break to the reader that girls also have potential to perform such intellectual kind of activities. However; not a single example of a professional women were found in the textbook.  It could be interpreted as achieving academic excellence is expected from girls commonly but; in our society it is unexpected from her to be a professional, a career woman. Further; exploring the nature of the shopping; articulates a lot of differences in the items purchased by women and men. Mostly men are paying for medicines, construction material, computer games, books, “jewelry for his sister”, and grocery. On the other hand; women are buying grocery, ribbons, gotta, clothes and cosmetic items.

In the textbooks men were identified by their jobs or professions e.g. doctor, engineer, carpenter, potter, farmer, postman etc. Whereas women were identified by their belongings as the daughters, sisters, wives or mothers. In addition to that in all the textbooks male youths have been provided with a wide choice occupational avenues to exhibit their potentialities, while writers had discriminated against the females by under-playing their creative and intellectual capabilities. Furthermore; the female characters were gradually withdrawn from the books throughout the grade progression, representing the social norm of withdrawing females from the public scene as they get older The school textbooks in Pakistan contain gender biases and women are presented in stereotyped roles in them. The content of Pakistani textbooks did not represent the changing social status of women. Still she is much expected in her traditional care giving role rather professional career women. This reflects strong gender bias as a social reality of gender status in Pakistan.

An interesting and thought provoking example is there in the textbook of mathematics grade VI, for the conception of graphs. In which the example of cake was taken for the concept of “pie graph”. In the sample exercise cake was equally distributed among two boys, half cake for each of them. Further; in exercise again cake was distributed but; now among three people, one boy and two girls. The strange thing is that the half cake was given to the boy and the rest half is further divided into two parts for the girls. That distribution raised questions in mind that what does it reflects? Do we still believe that men have right to get lion’s share?

 At very early stage of the age; children became familiar to the stereotype roles of male and female at their home. Since education have very strong impacts on the minds of the students so, very skillfully the concept of inequality is rooted in the minds of the children with the help of the textbook. Which further support those socially constructed phenomena throughout the learning process. The content of textbooks is biased against females so, the use of such textbooks is likely to prevent girls from developing a positive image of their role as an active learner, and it may also have negatively effects on their decision for higher studies.

Commonly young girls are not very much confident in Pakistani context. One possible reason for that they may have doubts about their abilities and competencies, and the contribution of textbooks in their doubts is not neglect able. The representation of women and men in stereotype roles leaves negative impacts on the enrollment as well as the high achievement of the girl students. Without exploring the capabilities inside her; a girl accepted the norm of the society that her role is pre-defined. As a women she have to play her care giving role so, higher education is not necessary for her. This causes the lack of motivation for high achievement and for higher education also. In most of the cases the behavior of the teacher further enhances that lack of the motivation among girls.

Educationists usually expected that education will be the vehicle for the positive change process. So, textbook could be the change agent for the society. It could play a vital role in the social improvement. For example; its role should be more that the portrayal of social reality. It should promote social justice and discourage societal biases against females. The textbook boards in Pakistan should devise a mechanism to develop and produce gender-friendly textbooks for children.

The contributor is studying at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development, in Karachi.

7 thoughts on “Gender biases in Text Books

  1. Nice Presentation of the gender biased textbooks. I think the important part is the implications of such textbooks on girls’ education. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. I enjoyed while reading your article. You have rightly highlighted the issues and conerns related to gender in our textbooks. Here the questions is who will adress these issues? When will concern departments and institutions reform/revise the
    textbooks?

  3. Interesting article. Gender roles are changing gradually but unfortunately, even that change brings more suffering to the women folk and to me it is more of burdening as opposed to ’empowerment’ mainly because of the mindset that prevails in our society as rightly highlighted by Taiyaba.

  4. Good reflective note, but the question pricks mind is, Are we educated and academia are playing the role in our society since it is not the responsibility of any department. how can we forget that this education system is reflection of our society where we live and act accordingly.

  5. very good effort and an important issue which needs to be highlighted to minimize the unconcious gender biasness
    i m also working on this topic for my Masters thesis
    keep it up
    🙂

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