MAP Insights


Gender fair education

written by Ms. AURORA “Boots” D. GEOTINA-GARCIA - October 24, 2023

With the recent opening of schools, I was reminded of a significant milestone that took place in September 2015, when 193 countries of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, including the Philippines, committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Among the 17 Global Goals are SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 5: Gender Equality.

It has been eight years since the SDGs were adopted. The question to ask is are we even there yet?

With reference to the UN’s “The Sustainable Development Goals Report: 2023 Special Edition” which presented a candid assessment of the global progress on SDGs, an estimated 84 million children and young people will still be out of school by 2030 and it will take 140 years for women to be represented in leadership positions. UN cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine as the major causes that reversed the decades of progress we have so far achieved. Given this, the world is falling far behind in achieving quality education and is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030.

The family, as a primary agent of socialization, is the foundation of values, behaviors, and social development. As a matter of fact, in Filipino culture, the family ranks in the top list of our life priorities. Inadvertently, gender and social norms, such as women being the default caregivers and men as the main financial providers of the family, are being perpetuated at home.

Oxfam’s report entitled “Understanding Norms Around the Gendered Division of Labour” reveals that the concepts of obligation or responsibility and the idea that each household member fulfills a prescribed role contributes to family harmony and unity. As traditional values still dominate our society, families inevitably conform to these expectations and socially accepted norms based on gender to avoid conflicts.

Furthermore, the language and social cues used within families perpetuate gender bias. In the same report, women who did not fulfill care responsibilities were generally perceived in a negative manner, often described as “lazy,” “negligent,” and “untrustworthy.” Therefore, as the report noted, the notion of women not being involved in care responsibilities is unacceptable. In addition, the Women in the Philippine C-Suite Study of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) and the Makati Business Club (MBC) found that, “timing is apparently crucial for women, especially when we recognize that aside from work, they also need to anticipate, plan, and prepare for their child-bearing and child-rearing years or when prioritizing having a family.” Overall, the mindsets and perceptions that children learn at home are carried over in school, and eventually when they pursue their chosen professional careers.

Schools are extensions of a child’s “home,” and therefore, play an important role in eliminating gendered expectations by fostering safe and inclusive learning environments. Materials, such as textbooks and visual aids, are fundamental to learning (and unlearning) gender stereotypes. One of the prevailing examples of stereotypes is the belief that boys are “naturally” gifted in learning technical skills in math and science, while girls are good at livelihood education and literature. This example only further exacerbates the notion that gender is a major determinant of what professions children should pursue, which should not be the case.

Notwithstanding that gender bias still exists, we are seeing gradual changes albeit at a slow pace. Using data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the Department of Science and Technology — Science Education Institute (DoST-SEI) reported that there was a 148% increase, from 179,000 in 1990 to 445,000 in 2015, in Filipino women pursuing careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Females occupy nearly half of the country’s total science and technology workforce, prominently in the health industry, while women in engineering, architecture, and ICT-related fields remain to be under-represented. The under-representation can be attributed to the long-standing metaphor called the “leaky pipeline,” which refers to the decrease in number of female employees as they progress in their careers due to many factors, such as discrimination, lack of role models, gender pay gap, and the outdated idea of job segregation. Insights from the recent Women in Engineering Baseline Study, spearheaded by the Council of Engineering Consultants of the Philippines-Young Professionals Forum (CECOPHIL-YPF), further uncover that while it is believed that opportunities for men are similarly offered to women, factors that are unique to women must be considered — one of the main reasons why there is a need to conduct gender sensitivity trainings in the workplace.

Education starts at home and therefore, unlearning gender biases must start within families. When people are limited to conforming to obsolete beliefs, it hurts everyone. In a similar manner, academic institutions must hold gender sensitivity training among teachers and learners. In addition, an extensive review of the current curricula must be initiated to ensure that gender bias and harmful norms are removed from learning materials, and one is free to pursue a professional career, regardless of gender. Without a doubt, rendering a more gender-fair environment at home is conducive to achieving success in school and in the workplace.

The likelihood of achieving the global targets outlined in the SDGs is unlikely, but we are not saying that it is impossible. You may ask, what can we do immediately? I believe now is the right time to reverse mindsets and stand up for gender equality at home and in school. Let us start accepting the norm that men should have an active role in doing care work, and that it is normal for women to provide for the family. As they say, if not now, when?

I would like to end by sharing an African proverb, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. When girls are educated, countries become stronger and more prosperous.”

(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).)

Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia is a member of the MAP Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She is the founding chair and president of PHILWEN. She is also chair of the Governing Council of the PBCWE and president of Mageo Consulting, Inc., a corporate finance advisory services firm.