Globally, Women Still Underrepresented in Textbooks, Curricula

During the AAP General Annual Meeting, Dr. David Nabarro, Special Advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations, discussed the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its 17 goals. Goal 4 is all about education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. However, Dr. Nabarro made clear that the education goal, as well as the others, will only be achieved if girls and women are given access to education and opportunities. A new review of global textbooks and curricula from UNESCO shows, though, that girls and women are underrepresented, which affects their participation in school.

“Today, on International Women’s day, we are investigating the persistence of gender bias in textbooks,” write Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report and Catherine Jere, University of East Anglia, “and reminding policy makers that until it is addressed girls’ motivation, participation and achievement in school will continue to be undermined, affecting their future life chances.”


  • Studies of Chinese pre-primary and primary textbooks cited in the Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2008 showed that males were disproportionately represented, and females appeared frequently only in reading materials for very young children. The proportion of male characters rose from 48% in books for 4-year-olds to 61% in those for 6-year-olds.
  • In India, on average, more than half the illustrations in primary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks depicted only males, while only 6% showed just females. 
  • A 2015 study in Pakistan found no change in the negative portrayal of women in Pakistani text books since 2004. 
  • In Australia despite there being more females than males in the country, a study carried out in 2009 found that 57% of the characters in textbooks were men.

Positive changes have been seen in other countries like Jordan and Palestine. According to the authors, in order for changes to be made, policy leaders and community members need to demand equal representation of women in order for the textbook and curricula providers to make it part of their development process.

Read “Gender bias is rife in textbooks,”  by Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report and Catherine Jere, University of East Anglia, World Education Blog, UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (March 8, 2016)

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