Here's Why Sexism Is Alive In Textbooks, And How Some Countries Are Stopping It

#BetweenTheLines

If you suspect textbooks read by children in schools might have a gender bias, turns out you're probably correct. A new report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) confirms that many textbooks from classrooms around the world have sexist writings and imagery.

The report cited sexist textbook inclusions in different countries. In China, the proportion of male characters rose from 48 percent in books for 4-year-olds to 61 percent in those for 6-year-olds. In India, more than half of the illustrations in several types of primary school textbooks were only men. Numerous countries encouraged stereotypes by depicting scientists and soldiers as men, and all teachers as women. Additionally, a report last year found some schoolbooks in Turkey included sexist rhetoric.

In light of these findings, Unesco has decided to promote awareness of this issue by asking people to tweet examples of either gender bias in textbooks or "positive examples of the way education is promoting gender equality" using the hashtag #BetweenTheLines.  

"Ensuring all boys and girls go to school is only part of the battle," Manos Antoninis, from Unesco's global education monitoring report, told BBC News. "What they are being taught is equally, if not more, important. Persistent gender bias in textbooks is sapping girls' motivation, self-esteem and participation in school."

Antoninis added that sexist educational materials are the "hidden obstacle" to gender equality.

While some world leaders have led the way to promote more gender inclusion, many national leaders in positions of power ignore recommendations to improve gender balance in textbooks.

The good news is that despite the pervasiveness of biased textbooks, some countries have taken giant steps to correct this problem. The report cited countries like Jordan, which depict women in books as prime ministers, fighters and pilots. Indian teachers encourage their students to identify sexism in books. And countries like Sweden were applauded for their egalitarian approach to gender inclusion in education.

#BetweenTheLines is another step in the right direction. We must first highlight this issue so that something can be done about it.