(Under)representing Women in Curricula: A Content Analysis of Urdu and English Textbooks at the Primary Level in Pakistan

By Saleem, Faiza; Zubair, Shirin | Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan, January 2013 | Go to article overview

(Under)representing Women in Curricula: A Content Analysis of Urdu and English Textbooks at the Primary Level in Pakistan


Saleem, Faiza, Zubair, Shirin, Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan


Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives

Language is a representation of reality but the reality represented through language is often a distorted one. It is the reality of gender perceptions which creates a false world in which women are largely invisible and voiceless, their share of responsibilities is downplayed, and they are reduced to a few subordinate roles (Leach, 2003). Such a false portrayal prevents both girls and boys learning positive lessons from the real evolving world around them.

Education plays a critical role in teaching young people about their rights and the textbooks are the most important part of this process. Gender discrimination does not end in school textbooks; however, because of children's trust in school education and because of their lack of development in analytical thinking, thus, school textbooks can be powerful tools for imprinting social and cultural values in their minds.

The first structured and systematic notions of the world and ourselves are acquired at primary school. The curriculum is the strongest tool to transmit and transform these notions, values and beliefs of society to the learner. The curriculum is implemented through the textbooks and the learning materials. The environment of the school also plays an important part but the textbooks are one of the major tools in this process since every society has its own gender belief system and stereotypes i.e. the conception of what women and men are supposed to be like is depicted in the textbooks. Through characters represented in the textbooks, young learners are given a pattern of preferred individuals and behaviours in a given society.

It has been observed by many researches on textbooks and curriculum that these do not depict the real picture of the world particularly when it comes to the roles of women and men in society. They omit the accomplishments of half of the human race. The textbooks primarily focus on the achievements of men while simultaneously omitting or trivializing the achievements of women. They also lack the description of women who have taken on roles stereotypically reserved for men at the same time ignoring those men who equally participate at home. Such a representation has negative effect on young learners and their progress is put at risk, especially of females. It also creates obstacles for both females and males who may opt for the roles in future that are thought non- traditional and non-stereotypical.

The feminist movement has greatly influenced thinking and approach in the social sciences and humanities, including linguistics over the past thirty years. As a political movement, feminism tried to render women's experience visible and to both identify and rectify the sources of gender inequalities. (Talbot, 1998; Littosiliti, 2006; Cameron, 1998).

Gender Studies on Textbooks

Research studies on gender in textbooks have been carried out all over the world since the 1970's. Kalia, (1986) has produced an apparently unique study by combining a quantitative content analysis of textbooks used in Indian schools with 'you can do something about it' exercises. These exercises can be used by students, teachers, and parents. The content analysis showed that men were dominant figures in seventy-five percent of the lessons, and eighty-seven percent of the biographies were of men. Male exclusive language was used to signify all humanity. She concluded that such "hidden curriculum" in the textbooks moulds children's gender-related values, especially if reinforced by the teacher.

Obura (1991) applied her analytical framework to twenty-four Kenyan textbooks covering math, science, technical subjects, languages, and social sciences used through the eight grades of primary school in 1985. She found some startling evidence of gender bias. For example, analysis of the three math textbooks showed that the presence of females was rare and became increasingly so in the higher classes. …

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