The Imperative of Gender Equality Education

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by Katrina Edmunds  @KatrinaAEdmunds

My work as an academic counsellor revolves around listening to young people, empowering them to design their future aspirations and to achieve them. From this, we often stray into understanding their identity and values, which has led me to be an ally and educator on issues of equity, especially related to gender.The first decade of my professional life in education was in international recruitment. I travelled to many places to promote UK Higher Education, from Paris to Peshawar, while grafting to reach management level, right before I was blessed with twins in 2011.

My entry into parenthood did not combine well with the role that I had strived to achieve. Thus, in 2014, I was hugely grateful to be offered the opportunity to do the mirror image of my job at an elite boarding school in Switzerland. I spent 7 years as a university counsellor while also serving as a boarding parent to the senior girls, which gave me a unique insight into students’ lives and their trials and tribulations. Last year I moved to the International School of Lausanne, where my role is to support students to prepare for the transition into university and/or career. This combination of experiences led me to step up to collaboratively initiate and lead Gender Equality societies in both schools. In this article I will address why gender equality education matters in the context of international schools, what it consists of, as well as how to deliver it.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls is important to address in the context of international schools as it underpins the wellbeing of girls and boys as well as the adults they grow into, and the society that they create. It is also critical in its connection to other SDGs as stated by Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, UnderSecretary General and Exec. Director UN Women, Gender Equality and Sustainable Development, in 2014.

‘Linking gender equality with sustainable development is important for several reasons. It is a moral and ethical imperative. Efforts to achieve a just and sustainable future cannot ignore the rights, dignity and capabilities of half the world’s population.

To be effective, policy actions for sustainability must redress the disproportionate impact on women and girls of economic, social and environmental shocks and stresses. Finally, women’s knowledge, agency and collective action has huge potential to improve resource productivity, enhance ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, and to create more sustainable, low-carbon food, energy, water and health systems. Failure to capitalize on this would be a missed opportunity.’

However, a recent WEF report estimates that at the current rate of change, it will take over one hundred years to achieve. We cannot wait until 2123 for gender equality! With the global challenges we are facing, we need to empower everyone.In the meantime, research has also shown that children have internalised gendered roles and biases that they are exposed to in their early years. This is through parenting, their school environment, and the media and that education has a significant role to play through providing a safe and inclusive learning environment. More explicitly this means that schools ought to be equitable at an organisational level, in their curriculums, extra-curricular activities, and cultures. In practical terms, this means that schools should:

  • Include gender in their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) plan
  • Audit attitudes of their community and the efficacy of their DEIJ plan and revisit it regularly. GEC have developed an intuitive platform to do precisely that for all matters of DEIJ as well as to offer spiralled training
  • Check for gender equity in key areas: board, leadership, sport provision, primary and science staff, salaries, flexible working arrangements, maternity and paternity leave for staff, rules and dress-codes
  • Provide training and raise awareness of the importance of Gender Equity with staff and students, including gender bias and stereotyping education through the academic and SEL curriculums, student societies, CAS projects and a calendar of annual events.
  • Every academic subject should review representation of gender, with a special focus in language and literature as well as STEM
  • Develop core values and attitudes to include gender equity (the GCIU model)
  • Offer equitable sanitary provision (including for transgender students)
  • Data check: student subject and university course choices; sports participation by genderResearch any anomalies from data and utilise focus groups to discover the causes
  • Ensure the role-models to which students are exposed reflect society not as it is or was, but as it will be.       

This means we need to work a lot harder and more creatively to enable children to imagine who they want to be as recently highlighted by Prof Ger Graus and research out of KidZania.

Starting in the early years, schools should showcase and celebrate female politicians, stay-at-home dads, female CEOs, girls who play football and boys who love caring for dolls and so on, ideally integrated with the intersectionality of socio-economic diversity, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ as well people of different physical and mental abilities. There are interesting developments in this edutech space too with NexGen Careers and Future First enabling students to not only meet diverse role models but also gain work experience. The list is long as shifting culture is complex but it is also actionable and urgent. Universities, companies and other institutions all around the world are doing the work and often lamenting it is too late by adulthood.

It is time that international schools make a serious and consistent effort on gender equality to create a better society for all.

In my next blog, we will discover how some IB students engaged with issues of gender equality, demonstrating true global citizenship in their CAS project by connecting with girls in Afghanistan fighting for the right to go to school.


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