High Schools Ignore Women Role Models, Impacting Female Students

By Wai Wai Lwin 25 January 2017

RANGOON — The exclusion of women role models from Burmese high school curricula has a negative impact on female students’ perspectives, leading them to believe they are second-class citizens, according to a newly released NGO report.

The Rainfall Gender Studies Organization announced their research findings on Friday at the Myanm/art Gallery in Rangoon, where they published a report titled “Gender Fairness in Curriculum.”

“The education system trains female students to be perfect women,” the researchers stated. “In Burmese society, women are allowed to fulfill only two high positions—those of effective wives and mothers.”

When the researchers examined high school lessons, stories, and poems, they found that those lessons were generally training and defining girls to be model wives and mothers. But for boys, the school lessons send a different message—to be brave. In particular, the exclusion of patriotic women heroes from Burmese history had an effect on students’ thinking.

“In order to break down this attitude that says women are second-class citizens, the curriculum should add more about women heroes, women’s strong abilities, and the ideas of creative women thinkers on moral lessons and stories,” said U Nai Min, one of the Rainfall members.

Teacher training colleges should stimulate more discussion and hold workshops with teachers to talk about gender issues, he added.

Rainfall is a Rangoon-based NGO that promotes women’s rights and gender equality. Founded by four Burmese women in 2011, the group aims to challenge patriarchal values in Burmese society, to remove the culture-based oppression of women, and to fight back against sexism. The group publishes Myanmar Feminist Magazine.

The research paper argues that gender discrimination—in education, employment, and day-to-day life—is the cause of some of the deeply rooted inequalities in Burmese society.

In Rainfall’s curriculum report, researchers analyzed the way in which school textbooks commonly describe women as caretakers, domestic workers, and obedient followers. The same books defined boys as masculine, strong, and natural leaders.

“These high school curricula teach moral lessons,” the researchers said. “They tell students that to be a woman means to be humble, to sacrifice for the nation, and to be obedient.”

Rainfall surveyed 300 students and teachers from Rangoon, Naypyidaw, and Mon State. The survey asked questions about respondents’ understanding of Burmese literature, history and geography.

Rainfall also organized what it called “focal group discussions” with students and senior teachers from several fields. The NGO conducted interviews with prominent student activists and officials from Burma’s Ministry of Education.

Burma’s education system discriminates against female students who choose to study certain “masculine” school subjects, the report stated. For example, it requires female students to score higher than their male counterparts in order to apply to the best medical universities. This has serious impacts on women’s career options.

“Regardless of a student’s ability or intelligence, our education system still decides a student’s future based on their gender, whether they are female or male,” said U Nai Min.

He is pushing to change society’s perspective on what it means to be a woman. U Nai Min suggests that more people raise questions, start arguments, and talk about gender discrimination.

“For example, some places at the pagoda will not allow women to enter,” he said. “In this situation, women should question this—and society should question this—whether this is true or necessary instead of just accepting it without questioning.”

“In order to create an equal society, the law, political institutions, religion, and our education system are all important,” U Nai Min added. “And they should all be concerned about gender discrimination in society. They must be better at educating and empowering both women and men.”

The Rainfall report strongly recommends that schools promote equal rights for women and men in education. It stresses the importance of breaking down patriarchal culture and values in Burmese school curricula in order to create more gender fairness.

The Rainfall group plans to launch a program called “Gender Training in Government Schools” in March 2017.

“We will start discussions, workshops, and presentations about gender inequality in society,” said U Nai Min. “We’ll talk more about education with teachers from both the government and monastic schools in Burma.”