Education and Gender
reviewed by Nancy S. Niemi - October 22, 2015
Though it is 2015, universal and gender-equal education is sadly not a worldwide reality. To those who pay attention to measures and mechanisms of global development, it is abundantly clear that not only are there significant parts of the world in which girls and boys are prevented from attending school, but also that even in places where such attendance is mainstream, education is not necessarily equitable. Education and Gender (2014), edited by Debotri Dhar, is a helpful recent contribution to the corpus of work on the intersection of these two subjects, primarily due to its position as part of the Education as a Humanitarian Response series, edited by Colin Brock.
So much has been written in the last 40 years about gender and education, particularly about women within the Western, English-speaking world, that it is easy for newly-published works to draw too heavily on research from this domain. However, Dhar and her contributors examine global relationships between gender and education through populations located in India, Mexico, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean, as well as the U.K. and the U.S. The themes that unite the gender and education work in these varied locations are what give this collection its strength.
Dhars introductory chapter (pp. 117) in particular clearly frames education as a necessary instrument of global development. She offers an uncompromising thesis that education is a fundamental human right: Without meaningful education, it is impossible to cultivate empathy for the challenges faced by women and men around the world and to foster a commitment to democracy, diversity, dialogue, and peaceful resolution to conflict, (p. 2). Dhar carefully articulates the theoretical perspectives that undergird worldwide calls for educational equity, contrasting instrumentalist approaches to education with human rights, human capability, and empowerment approaches (p. 3), articulating the nuanced but important differences between them. Such a well-crafted explanation of these perspectives would have benefitted from a concluding paragraph at the end of this section (p. 4), reiterating her stance on education and gender as a fundamental human right.
The introduction continues with a thorough review of the many waysbeyond access to schoolingthat educational equity must be addressed. Dhar cites the seminal work of Brock and Cammish (1997), identifying the range of socio-cultural, political, legal, religious, and economic factors in seven developing countries that acted as deterrents to female educational participation (p. 4). She also cites the 2005 United Nations Millennium Development Report that confirmed the continued existence of these same factors a decade later. Her succinct review of the sociological functions of education (e.g., Durkheim, 1956), gender stereotyping in curriculum and the hidden or paracurriculum (e.g., Snyder, 1971; Hargreaves, 1978), and its intersectionality with a host of other markers of social identity such as class, race, age, geographical location, the rural-urban divide, nationality, and so forth (p. 7) make a thorough and compelling introduction for anyone who is beginning an investigation into gender and education relationships.
The authors of the six contributing chapters offer a wide swath of perspectives on how many of these factors play out in the Global North and South. Orelmanski and Hodgson (Chapter 1) offer insights about an NGO Initiative, The Four Pillars PLUS project, which aimed to improve the educational outcomes of girls and other vulnerable children in Kenya (p. 23). Their lessons learned, while specific to the project, are eminently transferable to other similar community interventions: 1) adolescence is a crucial period for interventions that seek to address dropout rates; 2) projects must address a range of barriers to schooling; 3) buy-in from local leaders is essential for a projects acceptance and adaptation; and 4) community members must be recognized and incorporated as critical agents of change (p. 33). Likewise, Garrido (Chapter 6) offers similar lessons under very different circumstances. She demonstrates how the pedagogical activities of a lesbian-feminist organization in Mexico City, Grupo Lésbico Universitario (GLU), destabilized dominant gender norms through formal and informal methods and networks. Garrido highlights the radical effectiveness of using non-institutional spaces as sites of change, just as Orelmanski and Hodgson illustrate in Kenya through local community organizations.
Both Sethi (Chapter Four) and Younger (Chapter Five) explore gender and education in India and the United Kingdom respectively via historical lenses. Sethi argues that 19th century debates on Indian womens education framed the curricula in ways that continue to impact womens education in the 21st century. [T]here exists a correlation, she writes, between the gendered nature of our education system and the status of our women (p. 111). As too many texts on gender and education focus on U.S. and British history, Sethis history of the gendered nature of Indian educational systems in the Colonial and post-Colonial eras offers new insights into what might be unknown history for most readers. Younger examines the past 25 years of the gender agenda in the U.K. (from 1988 to 2013), noting the cyclical nature of educational progress in his country. His chapter comes directly after Sethis, creating what might serve as an unintentional déjà-vu for the reader: Does 19th century India look similar to 21st century Britain?
May and Rodgers chapter on gender and graduate education in the U.S. (Chapter Three), as well as Dhars final chapter (Chapter Seven) on feminist pedagogy and humanitarian education are both interesting analyses of specific parts of the overall gender and education conversation, but they seem out of place in the text. May and Rodgers analysis of National Science Foundation data to determine how the concentration of female graduate students in U.S. graduate programs has changed over time offers insight into a specific issue, but the authors fail to contextualize their analysis with the broader humanitarian theme. Likewise, Dhars final chapter offers very interesting examples of what feminist pedagogy looks like in practice; I will likely use this chapter as I revise my next syllabus. However, as the editor, Dhar needs to connect the definition and principles of feminist pedagogy specifically to the informal educational spaces and structures so clearly amplified in some of the books earlier chapters. By limiting her discussion to traditional university syllabi and classrooms, she quietly undermines some of the points her contributors are making.
Each of the books chapters has a chapter outline, questions for reflection, further reading, and a bibliography. While I welcome the suggestions for further reading and the bibliography, the questions for reflection are distracting, making me question who the intended audience was. Surely, those who read this book will generate many questions of their own. However, these text boxes of questions may be a requirement for the series, and not the editors individual design.
Overall, Gender and Education is a good overview of representative efforts within gender and education worldwide for anyone just beginning to explore these issues, particularly those who have some inkling that context matters in such efforts. As Dhar writes, An interrogation of the relationship between gender and education must instead be nuanced . . . . Such critical, multi-pronged interrogation is necessary if the humanitarian function of education in creating gender-equal, pluralistic societies is to be fully realized, (p. 9). I wholeheartedly agree.
Brock, C., & Cammish, N. (1997). Factors affecting female participation in education in seven developing countries. London: Department for International Development.
Durkheim, E. (1956). Education and sociology. New York, NY: Free Press.
Hargreaves, D. (1978). Power and the paracurriculum. In C. Richards (Ed.), Power and the Curriculum: Issues in Curriculum Studies. Driffeld, England: Nafferton Books.
The millennium development goals report. (2005). New York, NY: United Nations.
Snyder, B. (1971). The hidden curriculum. New York, NY: Knopf.