Tag Archive | "girls"

Because feminism DOES belong in schools


Last month the Guardian newspaper featured an article by 17 year old Jinan Younis about the sexist abuse she and her peers received after setting up a feminist society in her school.  Jinan’s story demonstrates the importance of schools as sites where feminist activism can grow and where girls and young women can safely and creatively think about and challenge sexism and gender inequality. Yet her story also, sadly, demonstrates that this space is under threat.  One of the many responses to Jinan’s brave story was the creation of a fantastic project called ‘Feminism Belongs: a collection of photo messages about why schools need to take gender empowerment seriously. GEA invited Jinan and Tanya O’Carroll (who, along with Jinan, helped create the ‘Feminism Belongs’ project) to write a guest blog about their experiences.  We hope readers enjoy their post, and are inspired to post their own photo messages!

Jinan Younis:

I am Jinan Younis and I recently wrote an article about my experiences of setting up a feminist society at my school.

I felt that my situation of girls being verbally abused, humiliated and intimidated for speaking out against sexism highlighted a very serious problem that was common in many schools like my own: there is no feminist education. There is no system or policy in place that teaches boys and girls about fundamental issues such as consent and rape, gender inequality, and body image. There is ignorance and aggression surrounding feminism and serious issues facing women. There is a huge reluctance from boys to consider issues that face women as ‘real’ issues. I was recently told that feminism is a ‘minor issue’, and one boy told me that he agreed that sexism still exists, before asking me not to tell his friends about our conversation. This apathy and hatred of feminism among young boys needs to be addressed.

As I went to an all-girls school, I have witnessed the sorts of traumas that teen girls face. There is a huge lack of self worth and self confidence among girls. I’ve had friends who were in emotionally and physically abusive relationships, and I can’t even begin to describe the pressures that face young girls concerning body image. Too many have eating disorders; too many turn that packet of crisps around to inspect the calories. Too many find their self confidence resting on whether the boy walking past checks them out. Too few are happy in their own bodies. I think schools should take an active role in creating a space where these issues are openly discussed and are dealt with. Schools should support girls in their fight against sexism, and should take a leading role in ensuring gender equality, healthy body image, and instilling much needed self worth among young girls.

The pledge ‘Schools against sexism’ aims to provide schools with a framework which will help them tackle sexism in their institutions. It states clearly the areas that need to be addressed, such as body image, respect and equality, and it allows the schools to have contact with large organisations such as End Violence Against Women. In order to gather support for this pledge, we have also set up a tumblr campaign ‘Feminism belongs in Education’. In this, people hold up a board with the words ‘Feminism belongs in schools because…’ with their own personal response. This campaign aims to acquire support from students and teachers, along with the general public, so that head teachers realise the necessity of implementing a policy of gender equality in their schools.

I believe that the only way that we can change the deep rooted sexism that is still such a huge part of our society is through education. Schools have the power to change the sexist attitudes of young boys, to encourage boys and girls to challenge gender stereotypes, to offer support to young girls and boys in the face of teenage pressures, and to instate a sense of self worth, self respect and mutual respect amongst teens. I think schools are currently leaving out a vital part of education for young girls and boys. Gender, rape, sexual consent, unhealthy body image, lack of respect and sexual harassment are all issues that are especially common among teens. I believe that schools have the power to change this.

Tanya O’Carroll:

Two weeks ago I read an article that touched me deeply. A young woman, Jinan Younis, had written an article in the Guardian explaining what happened when she set up a Feminist Society in her all girls school. Along with the other girls in the society Jinan became the victim of extraordinary online abuse and intimidation from boys in her wider social circle – so much so that the school asked the society to cease its feminist activities, citing concerns for the girls’ safety.

Did I find the boys’ attitudes to Jinan and her peers particularly surprising? Not really. I myself was at school less than a decade ago and the description of the boys’ behaviour was familiar. I think we got used to the idea that as teenagers we should ‘rise above’ constant sexual jokes and harassment, that the boys were just being boys, that they would grow out of it, and that it was harmless. The main difference is that none of us at school would have thought to openly call ourselves feminists. Should we have, I am convinced that, like Jinan, we would have come up against a much nastier and aggressive form of abuse.

However, while the boys behaviour in Jinan’s article didn’t surprise me, the school’s did. Actually I wouldn’t call it surprise. What I felt was extreme anger and sadness. Jinan’s words were deeply troubling:

We, a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls, have made ourselves vulnerable by talking about our experiences of sexual and gender oppression only to elicit the wrath of our male peer group…Without the support from our school, girls who had participated in the campaign were isolated, facing a great deal of verbal abuse with the full knowledge that there would be no repercussions for the perpetrators.

I felt an overwhelming urgency to let Jinan and the other girls know that they were not alone;  that there were many of us who agreed with her and who were living with the consequences of sexism going unchecked. For while I personally didn’t suffer the worst pressures of my gender at school they crept up on me. At Cambridge University I encountered a different breed of misogyny, where institutions such as the Pitt Club still exist and where old boy’s mentality dictates so many of the social rules.

I also came to notice it as I got older, when I discovered my six year old sister’s preoccupation and fascination with body image. Where I had previously ignored sexism in advertising and the media I began to notice it everywhere and saw the damage that it was doing to another generation of boys and girls.

I wanted Jinan’s school to know that they had failed her and so many of us when they did not promote and encourage their student’s feminist work. Many of us felt the same. I reached out to a few friends on Facebook and a group of us grew, as people added people, who added more people. We soon found ourselves with an active and passionate circle, including teachers and campaigners, community artists and social workers who wanted to send schools a message the Feminism is desperately needed in education.

We reached out to Jinan and worked with her to set-up the Feminism Belongs project, a collection of photo messages about why our education institutions need to take gender empowerment seriously. We were amazed at the rapid response. By the end of the week we had tons of entries, some coming from far away, including Estonia and Mexico. It seemed that both Jinan, and our message that Feminism Belongs, had touched a nerve.

It is obvious that gender oppression and sexism still pervade our society and it is hard to know where to begin to unpick them. One thing I am certain of is that feminist education is critical for young girls and boys growing up today. Not to teach gender divides but to open up conversations and safe spaces for both sexes to honestly explore the multiplicity of gender pressures that affect them. The struggle for gender equality is far from over and we will not have put it to rest until all of us – men and women, boys and girls – are proud to call ourselves feminists and understand the powerful idea of equality, choice and dignity that the word stands for.

 

 

Inspired? Want to get involved? Here’s how:

  • Take your own photos and add  them to the Feminism Belongs website: http://feminismbelongs.tumblr.com/  
  • Sign and promote the UK Feminista ‘Schools Against Sexism’ pledge – and get your school or your child’s school to sign up to: http://ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/generation-f/schools-against-sexism-pledge/
  • Why not write a guest blog for GEA and tell us about your own experiences of setting up, running or being part of a Feminist Society in school, college or university; or tell us why you think feminism belongs in schools and how we can make sure that it stays that way.  Contact Kim Allen if you’re interested in writing for us (k.allen@mmu.ac.uk)

 

*These images come from the Feminism Belongs site. Thank you to Tanya and Jinan for allowing us to use these here.

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Universal Girls’ Education? The Malala Movement


GEA Policy Report – July 2013

Malala Day, July 12, 2013, was a week ago, as it was Malala Yousafrai’s 16th birthday. To celebrate she was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York about her campaigns for universal and free education for all (EFA) and the speech she gave was broadcast to schoolchildren worldwide. She argued that ‘I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. If he stood in front of me, I would not shoot him…The[y] are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them…’

Readers will recall that Malala was the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the face on her way home from school by a Taliban gunman in the Swat valley on October 12th 2012. She was severely injured and flown to England for surgery in Birmingham at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She has made a miraculous recovery and is now attending secondary school in Birmingham. Her family has moved to Birmingham to be with her.

Malala had begun her campaigning for girls’ education in 2009, under a pseudonym, writing a blog for the BBC world service. Her father was a headteacher in the area and encouraged her education. According to The Guardian (28 March 2013, p.6) her real identity became known and she frequently appeared in Pakistan and international media advocating for the right of girls to go to school. In October 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace prize and in December 2011, aged 14, she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. It was this that eventually brought her to the attention of the Taliban in the region, given their wishes to reinforce women’s subordinate role as housewives and mothers befitting their version of Islamic texts.  

Malala’s cause has been taken up by several international celebrities, for instance the film star Angelina Jolie, who has been campaigning for women’s rights and especially health questions such as breast cancer, given her own diagnosis.

Malala has also been contracted to write a book entitled I am Malala about her life. It will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK and Commonwealth and by Little, Brown in the rest of the world.  She argued then that ‘I hope this book will reach people around the world, so they realize how difficult it is for some children to get access to education. I want to tell my story, but it will also be the story of 61 million children who can’t get education. I want to be part of the campaign to give every boy and girl the right to go to school.’

International politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon and tried to transform this campaign into a wider political issue. For example, the incoming Secretary of State for the US, John Kerry, replacing Hillary Clinton, argued that he would continue her fight for women. In an article entitled Malala’s vital lesson for US foreign policy published in London’s Evening Standard on international women’s day (March 8, 2013, p.14) he argued that the world should tackle ‘gender-based violence. As the father of two daughters, I cannot imagine the pain suffered by the parents of the young woman known as ‘Nirbhaya’ the 23 year old medical student murdered on a New Dehli bus simply for being a woman, or the anguish felt by the parents of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by extremists as she too rode on a bus, simply for wanting to go to school’. He then went on that ‘No country can ahead if it leaves half its people behind…That is why the United States believes gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability and peace, and why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing US foreign policy.’

Similarly, the former British prime minister and now UN education envoy, Gordon Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown have taken up her cause. They were involved with organizing Malala Day both at the UN, and through the children’s charity Plan UK, A World at School. Since Malala’s attack, the Pakistani government has passed a law making primary school education mandatory for all children. This was originally part of the UNESCO’s Millennium Development goals of 2000, to be implemented by 2010!

The goals of universal girls’ education and education for all are clearly vitally important in the world and the GEA supports both wholeheartedly. The two goals, however, confuse rather than clarify gender relations. Gender-related violence is not confined to the developing regions of the world, although it is clear that it remains a serious problem for the implementation of EFA.

A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala ‘expressing regret that he didn’t warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents…and ‘smearing’ them rather than for her campaign for girls’ education.’ (The Guardian, 18 July 2013, p. 3). In other words, he argued that the use of the gun was legitimate in the battle for a ‘proper’ form of Islam in the region. Thus violence, and gender-based violence in particular remain legitimate.

It is also the case that the campaigns for education ignore gender-based violence which are still rife in the UK and USA and elsewhere. We must continue to argue for a more appropriate form of education for all that tackles issues of gender, gender based sexual abuse, as part of child sexual abuse as well as including violence against women (VAW) as part of a proper education for all.

 

Miriam David,

GEA Policy Officer

July 19th 2013

 

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Breaking the Mould – it’s child’s play


Resources for teachers and parents about children’s books that challenge gender stereotypes Read the full story

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The Importance of Girl Things


Why are girl things so despised? Consider the derisive response to music girls like, movies and television shows girls watch, social networking sites girls inhabit, activities in which girls engage, and the clothes girls wear. The criticism is always snide and condescending: girl things—which appeal to, attract, star, and represent girls—are considered, at best, vacuous and, at worst, distasteful. In a 1999 article, gender and cultural studies scholar Catharine Driscoll argues anything perceived as a “girl thing” is instantly dismissed without consideration of the importance it might have in the lives of real girls. While the Spice Girls and their fans offer an infamous example of this girl-targeted derision, there are no comparable examples of bashing boy-things; no ubiquitous hatred for boys and their things. Read the full story

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Introducing…..The Twitter Youth Feminist Army


Earlier this year, GEA got very excited when we discovered some feminist activity happening online led a group of teenagers who are still at school and are passionate about feminism. The Twitter Youth Feminist Army (TYFA), like GEA, is committed to  developing girls’ interest in feminist issues and ideas, but are also re-definining what feminism and being ‘a feminist’ means to them.  We invited Lili, ‘admin queen’ of the TYFA to write a blog for us and tell us what its all about…..

Read the full story

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Inclusion and Gender Equity in Education: A Conference at the Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University


Dar es Salaam, 14 – 16 November 2012

GEA Policy Report Read the full story

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‘Keeping it Real’: teenage girls and everyday feminism


It is an overcast Friday in mid-October as the Cardiff University contingent (that’s us!) pull up outside a rated-but-dated business hotel in Newport; we are attending the #KeepingItReal conference for teenage girls, run by the South Wales charity Full Circle, who seek to support aspiration in young people, and as we find our way into the conference suite the atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm is already building. A large room is decked out as if an awards ceremony is about to take place, with over a dozen huge round tables, bedecked with linen and festive balloons, arranged in front of a stage where a sound check is underway. The walls are lined with exhibitors from local charities promoting sexual health, domestic violence services, and education opportunities, and what we thought to be a big purple bouncy castle in the corner turns out to be an inflatable ‘Big Brother Diary Room’ for the teenage attendees to record their thoughts about their lives and the conference away from adult eyes. No bouncing for us then, we sigh, and set up our stall nearby.  Filling the table with pamphlets and adverts for our gender and sexualities research group, we also lay out our GEA leaflets and journal copies, later eagerly seized by both teachers and charity representatives alike. Read the full story

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Physics Education: It’s Different for Girls?


Back in the late eighties I was one of two girls out of thirty pupils in my 5th form Physics class. While girls were happy to take up the Biology and Modern Language options, in my Physics class I languished- ignored by the boys that did not care to pair up for experiments with lens and pendulums with these odd girls that had bizarrely chosen this apparently most ‘male’ of subjects. Sadly, my experience in the Physics lab mirrored that of the sports playing field. Last to be picked, my teenage love of hockey and Physics soon waned.  It seems little has unfortunately changed in the intervening decades. Read the full story

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Bad Animals Sitting Sweetly: Some Thoughts on Naughtiness, Gender and What We Learn in School


Let it be known that my six-year-old daughter is a child rife with frolicsome mischief.  

The experience of parenting said child fostered my interest in naughty youngsters, the connections between misbehavior and personhood and how all children—especially girls– are socialized in schools. Thus socialized through behavior management practices, many are taught to equate obedience with learning and conformity with personhood. Recently I came across two different pieces in the mainstream media that piqued my interest along these lines: The first was Bill Lichtenstein’s September 9th New York Times reflection on the all-too-common strategies for ‘managing students in US schools and the second was a BBC interview with Michael Kenny, the first male graduate of Norland College.   Read the full story

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Why is the International Day of the Girl Child Important?


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Gender and Education Association

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