A picture from Turkey Elementary Civics 3 Book 2. Photograph: Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO
The report cites studies of textbooks around the world, including Chinese textbooks for primary-age children, finding that males were disproportionately represented in the material. In Chinese social studies texts, it said that all scientists and soldiers were depicted as male while all teachers and three quarters of service personnel were female, while in a 12-volume set of elementary Chinese textbooks women only accounted for around 20% of the historical characters, and appeared dull and lifeless in comparison with the more vibrant males.
In India, meanwhile, only 6% of the illustrations in primary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks showed only females, while more than half showed only males, according to the report. Not a single woman was shown as an executive, engineer, shopkeeper or merchant in six mathematics books used in Indian primary schools, said the analysis from the Global Education Monitoring Report at Unesco, with men dominat[ing] activities representing commercial, occupational and marketing situations.
The GEM report pointed to research from the late 2000s into maths textbooks in Cameroon, Cte dIvoire, Togo and Tunisia that found the proportion of female to male characters was 30% in each country, with each gender shown in highly stereotyped roles. Women were portrayed as accommodating, nurturing household workers and girls as passive conformists, while boys and men were engaged in almost all the impressive, noble, exciting and fun things, and almost none of the caregiving roles, it said.
Despite attempts to provide greater gender balance recent studies show that bias in textbooks remains pervasive in many countries, including Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan and some high income countries such as Australia, said the GEM report.
It cited a 2015 Pakistan study, which found no change in the negative portrayal of women in Pakistani textbooks since 2004, as well as the finding in Iran in 2012 that men made up 80% of characters in books designed by the ministry of education, and a 2009 Australian study, which discovered that 57% of characters in Australian textbooks were men, with double the amount of men portrayed in law and order roles, and four times as many depicting characters engaged in politics and government.
A page from the textbook Bangladesh English for Today. Photograph: Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO
Unfortunately, however measured in lines of text, proportions of named characters, mentions in titles, citations in indexes girls and women are under-represented in textbooks and curricula, said the report, warning policymakers on International Womens Day that until this is addressed, girls motivation, participation and achievement in school will continue to be undermined, affecting their future life chances.
The UN agency did point to some positive change in countries including Jordan, where women have been depicted in textbooks as prime ministers, as fighters and pilots, and in Palestine, where they are shown as street demonstrators, and voting.
Some Indian and Malawian textbooks challenge students to identify gender bias in accompanying illustrations and urge them to discuss these stereotypes with their peers. Sweden, likewise, is also complimented for its egalitarian approach to gender in its textbooks, said Unesco, which as it widens its investigations into the topic is asking students and parents to share examples of textbooks that perpetuate gender bias online, using the hashtag #betweenthelines, as well as those that push for gender equality.
It is no longer just about how many children are in school, which is important, but also what is actually happening in the classroom. Thats very difficult [to measure], but textbooks are a good entry point, said Manos Antoninis, senior policy analyst at GEM.
Teachers who in some cases may not have been sufficiently trained at the very least need tools to convey an accurate depiction of men and women, girls and boys, tools that provide the right background for equitable behaviour. If textbooks are filled with discriminatory moments, thats not a good entry point, Antoninis added. Were launching this call for people to join us and share images of textbooks because this is information we need to see more of.