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Gender equality remains elusive 25 years after Beijing

by Lesotho Times
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Pascalinah Kabi

ALMOST a quarter of a century has passed since the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference which came up with landmark decisions aimed at achieving equality between men and women but Lesotho still has so much distance to cover to eliminate gender disparities.

Themed ‘Action for Equality, Development and Peace’ the September 1995 conference reaffirmed the need to “ensure the full implementation of human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Lesotho was represented at the conference and committed to “ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care and enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health as well as education”.

But 23 years later, equality between men and women remains an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and some of the constraints are coming from the unlikeliest of sources- the very teachers who should be interpreting the education curriculum in ways that will help learners to eliminate the gendered roles which perpetuate inequalities.

If some of the educators do not understand and fulfil their role, then the war against inequalities will take much longer to win.

The Ministry of Education and Training says the Integrated Curriculum for Primary Schools, which was introduced in 2014, was designed to enable the education system to “deliver education for individual and social development, equipping individual citizens and the nation to meet the challenges of the increasingly globalised world in which we live”.

“This curriculum is also aimed at maintaining the core values and identity of Basotho culture and society,” the ministry states on its website.

A clear indication of what those “core values and identity of Basotho culture” is given in the learning outcomes of the Grade 4 curriculum which states that learners should ultimately be able to “explain that the differences between boys and girls are culturally determined”.

The same curriculum also states that the learners should know the cultural differences, gender roles and responsibilities.

“Teachers and learners discuss their roles and responsibilities in learners’ villages. (They should) list cultural tasks of boys and girls, analyse a case study on gender roles, identify myths about gender roles and differentiate between myths and facts about gender roles,” the curriculum further states.

One parent who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity expressed concern that the curriculum still promotes gender disparities instead of tackling them.

He said the curriculum inculcated the stereotypical gendered roles that discriminated against women, adding that once deeply ingrained in the learners’ psyche, these values would be difficult if not impossible to uproot in their adulthood.

“Sometime before the Easter holidays when I was assisting my child with homework, I noticed that they were learning about the responsibilities and roles of boys and girls.

“What caught my eye was one of the roles of girls and boys where it was said that girls were responsible for looking after babies while boys fix cars and build houses,” the parent said, adding that, “When I asked the teacher, I was informed that they were only implementing the curriculum”.

“I was furious because I envisioned a school curriculum that aspires to teach our children to reach their full capabilities. These days, females also fix cars and do a whole of things that were not so popular among females in the past.

“We need to destroy the discriminating gendered roles and responsibilities right from an early state.

“We can’t teach our girls that their responsibilities and roles are centred on taking care of their families, doing soft jobs, fetching water, cooking for the family, looking after babies and expect them to aspire to achieve more than that later in life.

“Biologically girls and boys are different but are equally capable of fixing cars and hard labour like building houses. The modern world has many career opportunities for both men and women. We have passed that stage where women’s careers were nursing, education and social work while men pursued well-paying careers.

However, as Genderlinks Lesotho Country Manager, ‘Manteboheng Mabeta, stated the problem might not actually be with the curriculum but rather with the teachers who have the mandate of implementing the curriculum.

Ms Mabeta said there was need to fully analyse the curriculum before criticising it because it was also possible that it was rather an attempt to encourage debate on gender roles.

She suggested that the case studies contained in the curriculum were an indication that the ministry wanted learners and teachers to talk about gender roles and stereotypes.

“It might be that the teacher is still backward and there is a serious need to train teachers on gender issues if this is the knowledge they impart in the classroom. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the curriculum but the issue is how we make sure that the teachers pass gender sensitive messages to learners where we are saying roles must be interchanged as long as they are not sexual roles,” Ms Mabeta said.

In a separate interview, Ministry of Education and Training’s National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) Director, Teboho Tsilane, also suggested that the problem was not in the curriculum but rather with some “individual teachers who are traditional”.

He said the Grade 4 syllabus clearly stated that “the learners should be able to explain that differences between boys and girls are culturally determined”.

Mr Tsilane pointed out that the syllabus had the broad topic of Gender and Socialisation which had to be taught under the sub-topics: myths and facts; learning to be a girl or a boy and gender roles and responsibilities.

He said teachers were given three tasks which they had to perform in order to achieve the expected outcomes.

“For example, the first task is to ensure that the child is able to differentiate between the characterises of boys and girls that are culturally determined and those that are those that are biologically determined. The second task is to ensure that the child is able to briefly explain what gender roles are and thirdly, to list traditional roles and explain how they are passed on to the younger generation,” Mr Tsilane said.

Asked about the allegations by some parents that the syllabus promoted gender stereotypes, Mr Tsilane said the syllabus was gender sensitive and said the problem might be with teachers who failed to articulate the aims of the curriculum.

He said teachers were also equipped on how they can assess learners and what resources they could apply to ensure that they have achieved the set objectives.

To ensure that teachers pass on gender sensitive messages to learners, Mr Tsilane said “when we discuss gender with learners, we go to their level of understanding and the syllabus itself states that most of the times gender roles are more cultural done biological.”

He said the aim was to make learners understand what was happening and what ought to be happening.

“It doesn’t mean that when a child is born a girl then they were necessarily born to cook. This is a cultural issue determined by socialisation and past socialisation is different from what we are experiencing today. It is an issue that is dependent on culture which is dynamic and changes with times.

“So this is how we are teaching our learners and even when we train teachers on the syllabus, we make sure that they understand that gender is something that is socially constructed. So it is a matter of how a teacher in class (will articulate issues) because some of the teachers are more traditional and their examples are based on their tradition and not the syllabus.”

It is therefore incumbent on the teachers to fully understand their role in the fight to achieve equality. And the ministry of education and the government must fully equip them to play their role through capacity building and learning resources among other things.

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