As we celebrate the accomplishments women have made around the world, I can’t help but question my involvement as an educator in any woman’s empowerment.
It is almost automatic that anyone educating a girl empowers her. However, concentrating solely on educating girls will not result in empowered women unless teachers are themselves skilled and active promoters of gender equality. Alongside families and communities, teachers form the front-line of a child’s development and in many cases, spend more time with children than anyone else, acting not only as educators but also as conduits of information and change.
Teachers, therefore, are important catalysts for empowerment. They are an essential part of both a child’s learning and her social, cultural and economic development. They transmit and implant social values and nurture a child’s creativity, talent, and interests. They equally provide children with the skills and knowledge to question and solve problems that they encounter in childhood and throughout their lives. If teachers are not the immediate cultivators of women empowerment then who is?
Until we realize that building a positive self-image for girls needs to be woven into the fabric of education, we are simply educating but not necessarily empowering them to be bold for change. Many girls suffer from self-esteem and confidence problems and need a supportive and engaging community to develop these essential traits. Strategies to promote self-awareness and effectiveness, such as mentoring younger girls, can be useful.
It is also useful to instill compassion and sense of citizenship in students so they understand that while they may have a relatively advantaged position, there are girls and women across the world who suffer injustice on a daily basis. It could be as simple as promoting students’ charitable pursuits via the school’s newsletter or local media, or encouraging students to engage in leadership. Either way, providing students with an opportunity to make a real difference gives them an appetite for bringing about change in all areas.
In addition to the above, International Women’s Day is just as much a celebration of female achievements as it is a reminder of the work that is left to be done. In the spirit of celebration, teach students about some of the everyday women who have achieved astonishing things – even if they are not included in the curriculum. It is important that students, particularly girls, are exposed to accomplished female role models on an ongoing basis. While successful women in the public and political arena are great examples to inspire students, there are also examples closer to home. Teachers are inspirational role models and can imprint important behavioral patterns.
Female teachers can also raise the gender awareness and sensitivity of male teachers so that male teachers are better able to understand their own socially-constructed gender roles, attitudes and behaviors and to foster greater respect of women as equals. Male teachers who adopt these changes or attitudes are essential to demonstrate that girls and women are valued in the classroom and in society, and also to encourage greater understanding of male and female roles and gender identities.
Female empowerment all goes back to creating a school environment that allows girls to be themselves, feel comfortable to fail and learn from mistakes. While academic accomplishment is vital, schools have a role to nurture students so they can become well-rounded and compassionate individuals. You never know, one day their achievements may be celebrated as part of IWD.
The writer is a language consultant