Challenging gender stereotypes

9th May 2003 at 01:00
I noted with interest the articles "When girls were delicate things" and "Assistants need to take second job to survive" in your April 25 edition.

I was not surprised to read that the 1868 Schools Inquiry Commission "wrestled with gender stereotypes", as we at the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland are acutely aware that, 135 years later, these stereotypes persist. School pupils' choices, both in terms of subjects and work experience placements, are still influenced by gender to a very significant degree. There is a clear link between these stereotypes and the existence of women's work ghettos - where women are concentrated in low paid, undervalued jobs, such as the ancillary jobs which support the education system.

That gender stereotypes persist is clear. We recently commissioned research into pupils' choice of work experience placement which confirmed that boys and girls still believe they should work in different fields. Boys mostly opted to work in the motor industry and manual trades whereas more than one in three girls surveyed chose placements in nurseries, playgroups or primary schools.

It seems that unless schools rise to the challenge of tackling the gender stereotypes which have been around for hundreds of years, another generation of women will be trapped in the low-pay, low-status ancillary jobs in education that were highlighted by the Unison research.

EOC Scotland recently produced and distributed a classroom resource pack for Scottish secondary schools entitled Educating for sex equality: tackling gaps, traps and stereotypes, designed to encourage schools to broaden their pupils' horizons and teach them about gender stereotypes and the costs of adhering to them. We hope that schools will find the time to use the materials contained in the pack.

Jenny Kemp

Education Development Officer Equal Opportunities Commission

Bath Street, Glasgow

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