Educating for Equality

The era of women’s equality in retrospect is a painfully thin fraction in time. A mere hundred years ago, Suffragettes were still marching the streets fighting for the right to vote in Canada. While we applaud western civilization for making dramatic strides in the rights of women and other marginalized populations, there are still many countries where the clock has almost turned backwards.

Cultures in many areas of the world, notably the Middle East, show us that privileges and freedoms can also be lost. It is a scary prospect - could these things happen here? It is hard to conceive, that a country as progressive as ours could ever adopt attitudes to bring about such radical changes. We assume that our young have learned by the fight, hard earned by our grandmothers. Our children, we believe, as the generation of tomorrow will continue to carry the torch of enlightenment… or are we just deluding ourselves?

In an article in The Globe and Mail entitled, “Canadian teens ambivalent about gender equality” by TAMARA BALUJA (2011), “Canadian teenagers may talk the talk on gender equality but they also harbour some markedly stereotypical views of appropriate roles and behaviours for men and women.” Nearly 1000 young Canadians were surveyed as well nearly 4,000 teens from India, Rwanda and the United Kingdom.

Here are some of the results: “The survey revealed that 31 per cent of Canadian boys think a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family. In the U.K., only 15 per cent of young boys think the same, while the number is 74 per cent in India. In addition, while 90 per cent of Canadian youth said they agree gender equality is good for both men and women, nearly 45 per cent agree that “to be a man you need to be tough.” By comparison, only 13 per cent of youth in the U.K. and 26 per cent in Rwanda hold similar tough-guy notions, the survey shows.

“We thought our numbers would be closer to U.K.,” said Rosemary McCarney, president of Plan Canada, an anti-poverty development group that produced the report for its “Because I am a girl” campaign. “But they were actually closer to Rwanda, and our reaction was, how does that happen?”

These are sobering statistics that show that we are not nearly as progressive as we think in Canada.  Perhaps it is time to take a hard look at how we are educating our children and youth when it comes to gender equality.  

Have we become complacent, backing away from emphasizing equality issues, comforted by the transformations we have already made? Our students cannot possibly understand how much effort has been made on their behalf - how can they? It wasn’t their revolution.

Now is the time for a call to action - not only do we need to remind Canadian teens about the battles for gender equality previously fought, we need to make it come alive in a personal and real way to help them envision a world where their privileges could vanish overnight.

We live in a fragile world and a smug satisfaction for our future is all it could take to violently push us in the wrong direction.

By Claudia Brown

Retired VP, KPRDSB

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