8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. It was first observed in the United States as a remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. This has evolved through the years into a plea for equal rights. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China declared March 8 an official holiday (scmp.com); in 1977 the United Nations declared March 8 to be the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.
As per the above evidence, we have been minding the gender gap since 1908. Its time to mend the gap. The pitch for international women’s day this year is to; celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, take action for equality.
This also means we have not made enough progress in the above areas, hence the need to challenge stereotypes. To choose to challenge is to come up with an action plan for every woman out there. This has to be done by women, as lack of the female voice and choice has increased the gender gap. All we have managed to do in the past century is to mind the gap, bridge the gap, but never to mend the gap.
Interestingly our students are ahead of us, at least I have experienced multiple interactions where students have challenged stereotypes with passion and purpose. Recently while discussing ideas for celebrating International Women’s Day, there was a suggestion of a dress-up day- ‘dressing like a woman’. This did not go down well with most students, the idea was vehemently argued by almost 60 students in the whole year group (grade 11) as stereotyping what women need to or should wear. They even went on to discuss other gender stereotypes like the signages across the globe on every building that defines male and female. I am very glad that my students think this way, they are actually mending the gap by participating in discussions on gender equality; practising plurality of perspectives; preventing stereotypes and discouraging toxic masculinity or feminity. In fact, the Millenials don’t consider gender as a constant in the equation of equality and equity, they consider it as a variable that can change as they discover their identity. This approach is empowering and can actually reduce gender inequality and discrimination.
As teachers and educators, we must tread cautiously as sometimes we tend to overlook sensitive issues related to gender. There are many characteristics specific to a gender that has to be acknowledged but it cannot be used to discriminate. As any inequality, in the large scheme of things, creates an imbalance. For example, a study in schools in America has alarming gender trends: 80% of high school dropouts are boys; 80% of all classroom discipline problems are boys; 70% of students with learning disabilities are boys; 80% of behaviorally disordered students are boys; 80% of students on medication for ADHD are boys; 44% of college students are boys (Coniglio, n.d.).
This is evidence of the negative impacts of inequality, inequality in the way we treat and teach. Surprisingly we have created a toxic stereotype of the male gender that has pushed our boys to behavioural, disciplinary and dropout issue. Celebrating International Women’s Day is about balance, balance in how we teach and treat all genders.
Can we choose to change, yes we can, if we choose to challenge it. Happy International Women’s Day: Mend the Gap, Don’t just Mind it.
Coniglio, R. (n.d.) Why gender matters in the classroom, the differences between boys and girls. TeachHub.com. K-12 Teachers Alliance.