Exploring Gendered Nature of Illustrations in Government Primary Schools’ Social Studies Textbook (SST)

Author: Taiba Yar Baig (MPhil-Education)- Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED)

Co-Author: Dr. Dilshad Ashraf- Head Special Project, and Associate Professor- Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED)

This small section of the important study titled“Exploring Gendered Nature of Illustrations in Government Primary Schools’ Social Studies Textbook (SST)” supervised by Dr. Dilshad Ashraf-Head Special Project, and Associate Professor- Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) is presented from the Researcher’s MPhil studies recently accomplished from the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED). The study highlights the gendered nature of messages communicated in the illustrations of the grade five SST textbook, examining how often the textbook illustrations reinforce the prevalent gender relations in society, and identifying the fundamental needs to enhance the representation and empowerment of gender (men and women) in textbook illustrations by providing key recommendations to policymakers, curriculum developers, designers, and reviewers, Textbook authors, Teacher-Educators and Teachers.


Primary education is an important stage when children develop a good sense of themselves and their relationship with others around them in the primary school classrooms, development of a social outlook in the minds of its young learners takes place. Here the young minds can either construct a new social order or support and reinforce the prevailing one. The educational and socialization processes in a primary school have been recognized as one essential contributor to the formation of gender identities and strengthens but according to (Ullah & Skelton, 2012) the “information or knowledge” provided through illustrations presented in school textbooks and curriculum are saturated with issues of gender, culture, and power. In contemporary societies (Tatar & Emmanuel, 2013) gender role stereotypes have been unacceptably increased and are observed in perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of societal people.

In Pakistan, like elsewhere, the curriculum of primary schooling plays an essential role in grooming young minds. The overall organization of schools, nature of the curriculum, and teaching-learning processes all contribute to young learners’ understanding of themselves and the world around them. As the curriculum is implemented through the textbooks and learning material so whatever the images of gender (male and female) are portrayed in textbooks will have an impact on a child’s personality. The deep-rooted gender bias in our society is being further propagated by the revised school textbooks. To this end, gender segregation as the organizing principle in Pakistan’s Educational System has resulted in separate schools for girls and boys from the very onset of primary schooling.

The primary schools under the government education system are most divided based on sex. Gender segregation, gender stereotypes, and predictable gender characters (roles) in the society exist which, in turn, reflect an expanded stereotypical stratification system (Jabeen, Choudry, & Omar, 2014). Studies on locating the social position of Pakistani women in textbooks also found that gender inequality and bias are instilled in textbook boards’ syllabuses (Badsha, Khan, & Kamran, 2021). Another study on the role of genders in Pakistani textbooks also suggested understanding suggested gender biases and roles in such textbooks advance the field of substantial evaluation and gender roles.

There are still few studies that answer the problem in this way. The main goal was to look at gender imbalances and see what could be done to improve them (Mahmud, Kaur, & Daghigh, 2021). Through such narratives and discourse, gender roles have been assigned. Our curriculum is a significant carrier of gender stereotypes, and it is vulnerable to bearing, transmitting, perpetuating, and integrating gender differences in children’s minds. Content research reveals gender disparity in the content (Badshah & Khan, 2021). It is well documented that textbooks in Pakistan promote patriarchal ideology (e.g. Jabeen, Choudry, & Omar, 2014). Studies before this one, in other parts of Pakistan including Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have found that men are more visible in Pakistani textbooks and their representation is more frequent than women’s (Syed & Agha, 2019; Agha, Syed, Mirani, 2018). 

As such, gender inequality in education has been at the center of all the international and national efforts of policies (DGs, SDGs, EFA) and Educational Sector Reforms. Specifically, gender equalities in and through education are key considerations for Gilgit-Baltistan Education Strategy (Parveen, 2018). One of these key considerations is reforming textbook materials with a gender equity perspective integrated into its contents.

 For years, Gilgit-Baltistan has used textbooks published by the textbook board of another province which did not allow the region’s educational stakeholders an opportunity for changing the gendered ideologies portrayed in the illustrations and the textual contents of the textbooks. Due to the recent development in GB’s province-like governance structure, the region must take important steps towards ensuring quality and equity in its teaching-learning process and the relevant resources i.e., textbooks.

It is, therefore, important to examine what gender portrayals are present in the textbook illustrations and how the stakeholders view these portrayals. To connect this analysis with the gender equity-related commitments of GBES, a review of this policy document is also important.

Significance of the Study 

The content presented in primary-level textbooks plays a considerable part in both creating and eliminating gender inequalities. The values, norms, knowledge, information, and skills present in textbooks reflect the dominant views and beliefs of curriculum developers, which leads to the development of serious gendered biased learning resources (Textbooks). This study is therefore significant in providing relevant insights around gender portrayals in grade five SST textbook illustrations to textbook writers and publishers so that they can make textbooks free of gender biases. 

The present study is significant because it contributes to the knowledge of the gendered nature of Pakistani Textbooks. In particular, the study has intended to inform the educational stakeholders about gender discrimination, and gender equality-related messages depicted in grade five Social Studies. This awareness may be critical for the educational policymakers while making important decisions about education reforms in the region.

Gender equality within education and through education is an essential consideration for Gilgit-Baltistan Education Strategy. Change in teaching-learning processes is also important for this consideration. Therefore, the findings of this study highlight what gender perspectives are communicated in SST textbooks and how the key stakeholders view these perspectives. The study also brings forth recommendations for the transformation of the SST textbook for promoting positive gender relationships.

The study also provided the participants an opportunity to reflect on how the SST textbooks conveyed certain gender messages and how these might have reinforced negative gender relationships. The exercise of drawing an illustration with alternate and positive images of gender relationships helped the participants to think about their desired world. Gilgit-Baltistan has used SST textbooks published by the Punjab Curriculum and textbook board for several years. This study hence informs the education stakeholders about the merits and challenges of using SST textbooks for relevance in the context and gender equity-related messages. This awareness is, therefore, critical for educational policymakers while making important decisions about education reform in the region.

Literature Review

Gender and Education: Gender Equality as Access to Education

Education is considered one of the social institutions for the socialization of the younger generation. It plays a pivotal function in shaping a society’s social structure, which is very important for the smooth functioning of society (Shah, Sultan, & Fazal, 2019). Gender and education have become a popular component of mainstream development discourse over the past decade. In a short period, the focus, aims, implementation, and monitoring processes of gender and education have shifted quickly. Though conceptions of gender and education have focused on parity and a ‘get girls and boys into school’ mantra, the critique on the topic has shifted the academic and policy discussion (Stinson, 2017).

Gender is a fundamental principle in organizing and administering schools (Aga, Syed, & Mirani, 2018). Qureshi and Rarieya (2007) explain that schools are small communities that provide a teaching and learning environment to teach and reinforce gender inequalities persisting beyond childhood. Similarly, Evans and Davies (2000) consider a school a place for social experiences where social values and behaviors are transmitted, for which textbooks act as agents of transmission. In school, textbooks serve as an essential medium to transfer social values in children (Forsberg, Westerberg, & Abrahamsson, 2012). But the content particularly the illustrations accompanying the text, upholds gender stereotypes. Pictures in textbooks serve as role models for learners to define standards for masculine and feminine behaviors. According to Bashir, Yasmeen, and Ahmed (2021), the use of images and diagrams in textbooks is reasonable and helps students in making predictions about the topic. In general, gender equity (or inequity) messages can be communicated through these educational artifacts. Pakistan has made slow and steady progress toward making primary and elementary education accessible across the country. However, it is still far from bringing the maximum number of children and youth to schools (Ashraf, 2016). According to Durrani and Halai (2018); Azhar, Khalid, and Mehmood (2014) Pakistan is a gendered segregated society with clearly gendered defined identities, responsibilities, and roles. Gender is constructed dynamically, and schools’ curriculum is significantly associated with gendered relations in a large society.

Many efforts have been made to include teachers in the curriculum and syllabus development process, but there is very little understanding of the role of teachers in curriculum and syllabus planning and development, even though they are the primary stakeholders in the educational activity. At the Intermediary level in Pakistan, a top-down approach is used, with teachers serving as the “recipients” of the curriculum (Manzoor & Haider, 2020). It is hence essential to reduce the gender gap in the educational sector in Pakistan. This can be done if gender perspectives are integrated into teaching and training to facilitate teachers in playing a vital role in sorting out gender issues, working around equality and inclusiveness, providing valuable knowledge and efforts to form gender pedagogies and policies, and most importantly, informing gender-equitable curriculum (Jabeen & Illyas, 2012).

Textbook Analysis

The textbook is defined as “a book used as a standard work for studying a subject” (i.e., Urdu, English, Science, Social studies). These textbooks are the primary sources of socialization for the young generation to know about heroes, history, and material and non-material culture. Instead, Pakistani textbooks allow students to learn about their gender biases such as the father is the breadwinner and the decision-maker, and the mother is the caregiver. Girls learn feminine and motherly roles traditionally associated with their gender such as cleaning, caring, and cooking from these books which usually represent the social structure of society to the children (Sultan, Shah, & Fazal, 2019; Luyt, Seng, & Ng, 2017; Gooden & Gooden, 2001). In Pakistan, adequate literature about gender inequalities is available.

Sultan, Shah, and Fazal, (2019) conducted their study on gender representation in public schools’ children’s textbooks such as History and Social Studies and found gender stereotyping and gender-based messages. Many sociologists and educationalists questioned gender stereotyping in the textbook which continues to exist in the Pakistani textbooks. Accordingly, Single National Curriculum 2020 for grade five social studies textbooks has also suggested organizing the curriculum into 6 strands including Citizenship, History, Government, Economics, Culture and Geography, the inclusion of national and global education including rights and responsibilities, and holistic development of students through appreciating respect and coexistence of diversities in the textbook. (Council & Ministry of Education, 2020)

Furthermore, “textbooks are part of the hidden curriculum which contain knowledge and norms preferred by school instructing the teachers’ work and embody subjects and also mediate the expectations, worldviews, and societal” (Kereszfy, 2009). This Curriculum has been prepared to develop students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions and encourages them to take action to address personal & social issues (Single National Curriculum [SNC], 2020). Vu (2008) defines textbooks as the subject of analysis reflecting intensively cultural and social norms. When students read or observe illustrations, they comprehend that the good characters are the models for them to learn from, and the flawed characters depict undesirable behaviors. Verikaite (2012) confirmed that an analysis of illustrations used in texts for reading demonstrated that in most cases, the gender of the character presented in an illustration coincided with the gender of the main character/narrator of the text.

Gender and Textbook Analysis

Pakistan is viewed as a “rigidly patriarchal society” with fixed beliefs that are very much orthodox. Within the fabric of this patriarchal society, attitudes based on gender are measured to be woven intrinsically (Hameed, 2002).  Agha, Syed, and Mirani (2018) argued that primary-level education is an essential part of developing children’s identities. In the Pakistani context, as textbooks play a central role in primary school classrooms, they could be a source of establishing an outlook of the surrounding society in the minds of their young learners. Hussan and Afsar (2010) further stated that textbooks in Pakistan are biased in their depiction of citizenship and gender identities, inspiring girls and boys to adopt the gender identities constructed for them. Representation of biased textbooks could contribute to the underachievement and under-representation of girls and boys in all sectors.

Agha, Syed, and Mirani (2018) conducted their study on the representation of gender and identity in the primary level of Sindh textbooks. They asserted that gender bias in textbooks is not highlighted as much as it should be because the country is still struggling to achieve equal access to primary education for all. They argued that gender bias in textbooks needs to be addressed, as this can leave a lasting impression on young minds.

Textbooks provide messages to children about how social relations in their societies are organized or organized and how female and male roles, characters, and occupations are portrayed in textbooks through illustrations. These presentations influence the psychological development of children during the teaching-learning process. Furthermore, textbooks enable children to learn about the responsibilities and opportunities open to them. Children internalize different expectations and allow them to adopt specific gender-specific roles towards their attitudes and behaviors (Taylor, 2003).  It is necessary to analyze school textbooks from the gender perspective because, in addition to family and society, textbooks play an essential role in children’s socialization (Mustedanagic, 2010).

Blumberg (2008) suggested that the textbooks in schools are responsible for counteracting gender roles and consciously promoting equal rights for men and women. Chung (as cited in Pesikan & Marinkinkovic, 2006) view that textbooks preserve stereotypical images of the division of work based on gender where men and women are traditionally regarded as male and female professions (gender division of labor).

Blumberg (2007) in the context of Virginia, studied gender bias in textbooks and found that China has a lingering gender bias element in textbooks. It was found that in comparison, Sweden’s curriculum promotes a more gender-egalitarian world of gendered stereotyping, and Latin America has relatively narrowed down the gender gap in primary schools. Similarly, Sovic and Hus (2015) carried out a study in Slovenia on the English textbook for young learners (age 6) published by three leading publishers (Cambridge, Oxford University Press, and Rokusklett) and found gendered visual features defined by texts were typically possessed by both boys and girls.  They also observed that boys idealize a character and do what they want, and girls follow a character and do what is socially approved (gender division based on traits).

One of the studies carried out in Indonesia (Damaynti, 2014) found that textbooks like SST provide a gender imbalance, where illustrations accompany the representations of gender irregularity. Srivastava (2005) carried out a comparative content analysis of Pakistan’s and Bangladesh’s SST textbooks and found that women were given limited weightage in the context of different thematic presentations, making an interesting reference to the status of women.

Similarly, Nofal and Qaqar (2015) studied gender representation in Jordan’s textbooks and found that men and women were limited to domestic roles (Khurshid, Gillaniz, and Hashmi (2010) and social-religious settings; they were shown mostly as the childminders, mothers, housewives, tourists, and archeologists. Simultaneously, men were shown as fathers, brothers, husbands, tour guides, university professors, police officers, and artists. This gendered depiction denoted the gender divide concerning time, space, and roles.

 Besides this, the research on gender issues in textbooks from India and Syria shows strong gender biases in textbooks like History and Geographic texts and it also alludes to insufficient work in most national educational systems for changing the curriculum and the content of the textbook (Blumberg, 2007). In Pakistani educational contexts, with regards to learning resources at the primary level, females’ and males’ roles and activities in the SST textbook are concerning. Females are almost non-existent. Women’s domestic and social roles are restricted to the confines of the four walls of the house, such as cooking, fetching water, caring for children, and playing with dolls. Girls are prepared to acquire their feminine skills through apprenticeships with their mothers and elder sisters, having less intelligence and exposure.

On the other side, men are presented as more intelligent, capable of critical thinking and holding power and authority, role models, thinkers, doctors, engineers, and athletes, and are closely affixed to the public sphere in textbooks (Jabeen& Illyas, 2012; Ullah & Skelton, 2012; Durrani, 2008; Chaudhary & Omar, 2014).According to Dean (2017); Zafar and Malik (2016) and Shahab and Sherani (2015) in Pakistan, the promotion of the concept of gender nationalist ideology took place through constructions of binaries like strong, masculine, powerful, weak, sensitive, submissive and powerless. The content presented in Pakistan’s textbooks mainly consists of the projection of stereotypical illustrations of males and females. They do not relate to the natural and actual lives of females (girls and women). Thus, we must replace the current stereotypical images and text presented in textbooks with more gender-balanced material.

Educational Policies and Gender Construction

Globally, to achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE), significant efforts have been made over periods but achieving the goal is not yet fulfilled (Leach, 2003). The stakeholders do not achieve elements of efficiency, equity, equality, and empowerment in education due to the lack of gender awareness policies, which results in denial of access to capable women, the traditional top-down development planning, disempowerment of men from the planning process, and higher dropout of children from schools. All of which, in turn, causes more significant gender gaps in educational institutions. That is why males’ and females’ access to education has an unequal ratio (Leach, 2003). Similarly, Pakistan’s government is also concerned with launching programs to reduce gender inequality in the educational sector. The constitution of Pakistan (1973) promises equal rights to all citizens, repudiates discrimination based on sex alone, and affirms steps to ensure full participation of men and women in all spheres of life. (Jabeen, Choudry, & Omar, 2014) However, efforts have been made regarding Pakistan Education Sectors Reforms 2001-2005 and the National Plan of Action relating to Education for All (EFA), but these reforms seem insufficient and inadequate as their implementation in the educational sector has not been successful.

Gilgit-Baltistan Educational Strategy: An overview

Gilgit-Baltistan introduced the Gilgit-Baltistan Educational Strategy of Gilgit-Baltistan (GBES) during the 18th constitution amendment in 2010 to ensure gender equality and the recognition of issues related to gender in education. The GBES is a policy text and a vision document owned by the Education Department, explicitly emphasizing gender equality and equity in education. The strategy focused on three significant dimensions; access and equity, quality and relevance, and management (Parveen, 2018). With a focus on equity, equality, and relevancy, GBES highlights gender issues and identifies gender gaps in education, and the curriculum and relevant materials. It also explains teachers’ inequitable behaviors and the gender blindness towards the pieces of training for quality teaching-learning with their possible solutions to overcome these issues (GBES, p.26 & 70). Durrani and Halai (2018) in their analysis of educational reforms followed by gender justice, conflict, and social cohesion in Pakistan, explained that the revision of the national curriculum in 2006 replaced the content-driven curriculum with a competency-based curriculum. They argued that this revision in the curriculum is highly politicized and contentious. The gendered representation of nation and identities of gendered citizenship push towards the traits of hegemonic masculinities. 

 Challender, Unterhalter, and Aikmanas (2005) perceive the supplementary curriculum as a critical national legislation piece. The “who” and the “what” of the curriculum are not confined to the content. Nevertheless, the processes of curriculum development and the forms of consultation and debate underpin the choice of ideas, documents, and materials that comprise a curriculum and its process of review. They further emphasize such institutions will provide an environment for furthering dialogue between policymakers and practitioners where both are alert to the insights of the other about gender quality strategies. This practice will help ensure a questioning of the current gendered ways in which decisions about curriculum content and curriculum development ensure not to reinforce inequalities. However, the process also entails being concerned with the development of all individuals’ freedoms, irrespective of gender, to choose the outcomes they have and a reason to value them.

Findings and Analysis

Grade Five SST Textbook- An Overview

The grade five SST textbook (2018-2019) is written by all male authors. The reviewing/translating committee comprised of ten men and one woman. There are eight chapters in this book with a focus on geographical features, climate, and history, systems of government, culture, economics and means of transportation in the country.  Out of eight chapters, very few have illustrations. The SST (2018-2019) textbook has 108 illustrations for both males and females. A total of 50 out of 108 (47%) illustrations show men while 08/108 (07%) represent women. The remaining 50 illustrations show geographical features, climatic conditions, official buildings, and means of communications (newspapers, radio, TV, Computer), medicines, and sports equipment. The illustrations (provided below) reflect women and men in conventional roles and stereotypical gender divides.

The representation of attitudes, attributes, work, and behaviors of males has significantly exceeded females’ representation (total of eight). Males are shown to be more visible in illustrations accompanied by text as compared to females. The male characters are abundant 50 illustrations in figures, as shown below, and portrayed as leading leaders in social, cultural, religious, political, and economic domains with specific gender roles and identities. Both males and females are portrayed within the subjective gendered frame depicting male supremacy and authenticity. The stereotypical traits reinforced women as weak, passive, vulnerable, and inefficient members of society. However, the male gender is shown as a more invincible one, and there is also an attempt to quickly convince the readers how important it is to be a male. The SST textbook’s gendered portrayals do not correspond well with its purpose of prompting the concepts of gender equality and gender segregated free content.  There is an implicit attempt to promote and reinforce prevalent gender bias among the young learners.

Gendered Nature of Illustrations portyrayed in Primary Grade SST textbooks

For the in-depth understanding of the gendered illustrations in the textbook, I have analyzed the textbook (table below) using ABC and Naila Kabeer’s Gender Analysis frameworks. The section below provides a gender analysis of the illustrations from the grade five SST textbook. 

Gender Representation of illustrations presented in SST using ABC (1997) and Naila Kabeer’s (1996) social interaction Framework


Primary level textbooks are an essential part of education and develop the identities of children. Textbooks are the source of establishing an outlook of the societies in the minds of children and young learners and serving as a reference to their socialization (Jabeen, Chaudhary, Omar, 2014). Communication of values from textbooks to children helps in constructing and assisting/supporting the prevailing identities. Therefore, the presentation of identities and gender in textbooks is an essential discussion. The above discussion based on textbook analysis has proved that in the SST textbook, the number of illustrations depicting males is more than that of females. There is a gendered misrepresentation of illustrations defining both females and males equally. Gender stereotyping, the public-private divide, and the prevalence of patriarchy were be linked together in the textbook. It has also been noted that above that males in the pictures tend to be engaged more in outdoor activities. At the same time, the females tend to be engaged inside homes. Men are considered more in professional, dominating roles, but women are submissive, and passive in their traditional roles, identities, and activities. The patriarchal models of genders still exist in the updated version of SST textbooks. The social context and realities were fundamental in the interpretation of the analysis.

The National Curriculum 2017 and GBES focuses on gender awareness, gender gaps, and gender inequalities in teaching-learning material with its proper implementation and evaluation. As it is evident from the textbook analysis, the SST textbook still has content that communicates gender-biased messages through its illustrations and the accompanying text so, there is the need to treat the textbook’s content because the textbook is a mirror for current times and assists and directs children towards their futures.


Recommendations for Policy Makers

The policymakers and other primary stakeholders of the educational development and reforms must better understand the gender equality notion concerning education policies and practices. Policymakers should be aware of the development/ revision of textbook policies integrating gender equality and equity as a fundamental quality criterion. They should reflect on how to cater to textbook authors and teachers’ capacity building that integrates vital and explicit gender components. It is also recommended that the illustrations be allocated for females and males with equal proportions. In more conservative/gender-stratified nations, some male and female representatives must present the proposed reforms to top government officials.

Recommendations for Textbook Authors

 Textbook authors must be aware and concerned about how to present content that provides a message of gender equality to the learners rather than confirming gender discrimination and stereotype as given. All the textbook writers need to develop gender lens and use tools available for integrating gender equity perspectives in textbook and curriculum. 

Recommendations for the Teacher-Educators

 It is recommended that teacher educators be provided with professional opportunities to train them for curriculum enrichment, resource development, and gender equality and equity guidelines for effective teaching and learning. This should help create a favorable climate for gender reform.  There is also a need to bring teacher-training modules focusing on gender equality and in providing packages of valuable materials/resources to be suited to localized and contextualized for teachers to utilize in the classroom. Teachers need ongoing support by building teachers’ networks to change pedagogies, working on new pedagogies through teacher centers and school clusters, implementing ideas regarding gender equalities, and overcoming the taken-for-granted gender inequalities of such societies in which they live. 

Recommendations for the Teachers

  Primary level teachers are the most responsible person in nook and corner who could play a vital role in encountering challenges to practices gender equalities. Therefore, teachers need to understand and develop a conscious need to cope with gender biases and gender issues in SST textbooks in constructive ways. This could be done by developing teaching-learning strategies that address gender issues and promote gender equalities considering local needs and conditions. School-based professional development opportunities can help teachers in developing contents of gender equality and gender-responsive pedagogies. This will equip teachers to cultivate new cultural capital on gender-based equalities.  Teachers can also involve and work collaboratively with their students to challenge the stereotypes through a process of change in taught and learnt curriculum.

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