Book Reviews

By Horsfall, Sara | Transformations, September 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews


Horsfall, Sara, Transformations


Book Reviews

Mary-Louise Kearney and Anne Holden Ronning, editors. Women and the University Curriculum: Towards Equality, Democracy and Peace. Paris, France: UNESCO Publishing (and London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 1996. Paperback. 270 pages. $34.95

Shirley Walters and Linzi Manicom, editors. Gender in Popular Education: Methods for Empowerment. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Zed Books, 1996. Paperback. 239 pages. $25.00

Despite the continued efforts of powerful and influential women who organize world noted events, such as the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, and of women who participate in governmental affairs in the West, in many places women still cannot vote or own property, and in post-colonial societies only 10% of the elected representatives are women. Is it coincidental that two-thirds of the world's illiterates are women? For women working to increase the feminine voice worldwide, education is the means to empowerment. Two recently published books deal with this important subject. One, Women and the University Curriculum looks at women's issues in the formal setting of universities and colleges, whereas the other, Gender in Popular Education examines gender at the "grass roots" level - helping women become aware of their situation and their options.

The predominant interest of both volumes is the international scope, which makes them informative and ideal as supplementary material for classes on development and gender. Descriptions of the existing feminine voice and the struggle to increase women's place around the world are fascinating. Women and the University Curriculum describes the situation of university women in eleven different countries, and in as many different fields. (It also includes accounts from four international organizations.) Gender in Popular Education, also an edited volume, includes papers from Malaysia, Australia, Appalachia, South Africa, Canada, Philippines, and India. At first glance, the latter seems more politically oriented, but a more careful reading reveals that both books are solid in their presentation of the situations of women worldwide. While the stories are not new, there is always room for an update on the progress women are making to achieve equal status. Despite the obvious academic qualifications of the authors, Women and the University Curriculum is more policy than grappling with issues, which is perhaps to be expected of a UNESCO publication. Gender in Popular Education, on the other hand, offers solutions and a successful challenge to existing educational pedagogy.

One cannot help but conclude that women's position and the regard of gender issues in universities from Ghana to Norway to Australia are not all that different. In Bulgaria, the few people informed about feminism are those who have been in contact with Western European culture. For Bulgarians in the know, feminism is a transitory subject, not a scholarly pursuit. This resistance is strengthened by the fact that feminism appears to be ideologically loaded, whereas the current atmosphere in Bulgaria makes anything that appears to have a political ideology unpopular. "Feminism does not 'speak' Bulgarian," (152) writes Ralitsa Muharska of St Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia. Yet concern for gender equality is a familiar theme in Bulgaria as it is in other countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Some argue that the gains women made under communism are mainly on paper, whereas, in reality, there is still a long way to go for true gender equality. In Ghana, on the other hand, there is no history of paper gains, but there is a resistance to gender concerns in the academic setting. In the legal profession in Ghana in 1973 there were only 30 female lawyers as opposed to 210 males. The imbalance is one reason that gender concerns currently take a back seat to other, more job-advancing topics in law school. Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, from the University of Ghana, argues that because tertiary (higher) education is where attitudes of future policy makers are shaped, it is the cornerstone of advancement for women. …

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