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The Importance of Gender Equity in Education
Federation has long campaigned for gender equity in the classroom and for the teaching service. At May Council, a motion was carried that reaffirmed Federation’s commitment to our Gender Equity Policy (2001).
Debate focussing on the differences between girls’ and boys’ education is not new and this policy states, in part: “Educationally and socially, the best expression of gender equity is developed through comprehensive, co-educational schools and colleges.”
“The Federation therefore reaffirms the embedding of gender equity strategies across all curriculum areas in our schools and colleges.”
The Federation decision acknowledges that schools cannot be held solely responsible for addressing gender equity when society as a whole is still grappling with issues such as gendered and domestic violence and the different relationships of power and privilege.
Many students’ lives, career options and opportunities are affected by gender stereotyping. This can be compounded by both a lack of intersectional awareness and representation via behaviour based on assumptions of class, race, Aboriginality, culture, (dis)ability, language, sexuality.
As Michael Kimmel said in his TED talk: Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone (2015): “Privilege is invisible to those that have it.”
It is educationally important for students to see their teachers in a range of roles, across all curriculum subjects and in all leadership positions. Marian Wright Edelman, an African-American lawyer and children’s rights activist is credited with the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see”, arising from her observations in the documentary Miss Representation (2011).
It features insights from many prominent women activists about why women are underrepresented in positions of power and influence.
Her words, and subsequent interviews and writings, as well as those of many others, have highlighted the lack of visible role models not only for women and girls but also children from Indigenous or culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or gender diverse backgrounds when represented in public life and on television, in films, books, magazines, advertising etc, predominantly in stereotypical, limited-character roles or minor positions lacking authority.
It is in the long-term interest of society as a whole to ensure the provision of well-funded and resourced quality education programs that assist all students to achieve their potential and take their place as informed and socially responsible citizens.
In our Gender Equity Policy (2001) we noted: “Poor analysis creates simplistic reactionary ‘solutions. The Federation rejects narrow, ‘one-off’ publicity-driven programs that deliver little real or lasting change.”
We know that sustainable gender-equity strategies cannot be left to the responsibility of one person or one role, nor will many different strategies that compete for limited resources prove successful.
It is repeatedly reported in the field of gender and education research that the inclusion of gender equity strategies in the curriculum, the quality of the teaching, accessibility of resources and the creation of a safe learning environment is of crucial significance in improving student outcomes.
As educators we can be active and positive agents for change by embedding gender equity across all curriculum areas and in our interactions with colleagues and students.
Leeanda Smith, Women’s Coordinator