Balance for better: What roles can educators play to create a gender-balanced world?

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme: “Balance for Better” cannot be timelier. The race has been on for quite some time, and the fight is getting fairly spirited. As the world celebrates this balance or remedy the lack of it this Friday, March 8, I can’t help but ponder how educators fit into the big picture. For typical classrooms where participation and discussions are male dominant, forging a more balanced world may seem the most absurd journey for any teacher to embark on. Yet in spite of such cynicism, educators are the most suited activists for this cause.

Just so we are on the same page, the balance addressed here is not equality of some biological sort—don’t go hopping mad just yet. The idea is to tenaciously challenge gender bias; it is the dream of having a gender-balanced classroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, and gender-balance of employees in various organisations, more gender-balance in wealth distribution, gender-balanced sports coverage, you name it. Which is the best place to plant these ideas other than in the young minds of the youth that educators are entrusted to mould?

The best place to start is in the classroom, by rousing equal participation in various activities. Usually, the boys are quick to answer questions and are willing to dominate discussions. This statement is in no way intended to imply that girls can never participate unless prompted, rather, to capture the cultural constructs that encourage women to be seen, and not to be heard; the notions that regard beauty and brains as mutually exclusive. The reality is that if you go by the raised hands in your classes, you create an imbalanced class. Use differentiated structured groupings that compel everyone to be active. Empower the ladies to speak up confidently in your classes and to lead discussions alongside their male colleagues to prepare them for leadership roles outside class. While at it, publicly condemn any language or joke that is gender insensitive. Statements like, ‘you run like a girl,’ ‘manpower’ or ‘man-up,’ can be disempowering in the most profound ways.

Besides, educators can also help promote equal representation in co-curricular activities like sports and debates. If there is a football, basketball or volleyball club for boys, why not have one for girls. Even better, why not mix the teams up for a richer play. You may think this funny or even impossible but this is one way to inculcate the idea of coexistence and interdependence. The hint is to have both genders represented without feeling like one is better than the other. Sports aside, you can also use platforms like debates, not only to nature talents, but also to address the gender issues that affect the world today. Make the most of the drama club to stage a mockery on the society for its unfounded stereotypes. Use every opportunity in the clubs to plant positive ideologies and promote balanced leadership.

Occasionally, educators can have “the talk” with students to empower them to make informed choices. A gender-balanced world is impracticable when girls are dropping out of schools or are discontinued due to teenage pregnancies; when minors waste away in drugs and alcohol; when the youth are overwhelmingly depressed by the cares of the world. Proper guidance about health and family planning as well as intentional counselling and support should be given to both gender in school to help them socially co-exist while at the same time building careers. This can only be done by spirited educators who are willing to go beyond their call of duty. Are you one of them?

The balance we are hoping to achieve is impossible without the help of educators who are daily in contact with the young ambitious generation whose efforts are constantly thwarted by cultural constructs on gender. The best ways to nurture this balance is to encourage equal participation in all school activities and to be sensitive of the language and examples used at school.