Sexist school textbooks holding back gender equality in Vietnam: report

By Duong Tam   August 29, 2017 | 02:40 pm GMT+7
Sexist school textbooks holding back gender equality in Vietnam: report
A study of 76 textbooks found that of the 8,000 human characters mentioned in there, up to 95 percent of examples of famous and important figures were male. Photo by VnExpress/H.H.

'Male-dominant content and images in textbooks can shape our children's mindsets and slow down the process of achieving gender equality in society.'

Textbook editors in Vietnam have pledged to remove gender stereotypes and promote equality after being criticized for using content that appears to perpetuate gender discrimination in the classroom, participants at a conference in Hanoi said Monday.

A study of 76 textbooks covering six subjects from 1st to 12th grade found that of the 8,000 human characters mentioned in there, 58 percent were male and 41 percent were female, said Tran Kim Tu, a senior official from the Ministry of Education and Training, citing the study conducted by the ministry and UNESCO.

Up to 95 percent of examples of famous and important figures were male, according to the study. Men and boys account for 51 percent of the characters in elementary textbooks, but up to 81 percent in textbooks for high school students, it said.

The career options for men are also much more diverse than they are for women in the textbooks.

Men are portrayed as doctors, scientists, engineers, police, soldiers and family leaders who have the final say, while women are stuck in the role of housewives, teachers or office workers, and always appear to be weak and in need of male support, Tu said.

“Male-dominant content and images in textbooks can shape our children's mindsets and slow down the process of achieving gender equality in society,” he said.

A first-grade book about social activities, for instance, has pictures of boys running around and playing football, while the girls are either sitting or cleaning.

Illustrations of families also show the father resting and reading while the mother is cooking and cleaning.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet, editor in chief for general textbooks in Vietnam, said writers and editors would focus more on gender equality in the updated versions.

He said editors and illustrators probably have these gender stereotypes ingrained in them, and that he had been unaware of the problem until it was pointed out by experts.

He promised that his team would train writers, editors and illustrators to change this mindset as soon as possible.

However, regarding gender inequality in the content, Thuyet said he could not make a firm promise. He said there is some content that editors can fix to raise awareness about gender equality and eliminate stereotypes, but they can only “try” to portray men and women as equal.

Gender inequality also remains a problem in the Vietnamese media.

A report released earlier this year by Oxfam said that many Vietnamese journalists still hold stereotypical views about female leaders and their skills and qualities, sending the wrong message to their audiences.

Oxfam found that journalists in general believe Vietnam needs to increase the role of women in society and economic development. However, images of women in leadership suggest that what journalists think and what they actually do may not always match up.

In one of the major findings, the report points out that female leaders are more likely to be associated with family and appearance. Many media reports continue to reinforce a stereotypical ideal of female leaders handling their family roles as traditional housewives while performing in the workplace as modern women.

Another notable finding is that journalists tend to favor men when they're looking for sources. According to the researchers, who analyzed more than 2,000 articles last year, male sources dominated the news, and female leaders accounted for only 14.3 percent.

The report also says that most journalists see male sources as more intelligent, decisive and powerful than female leaders.

 
 
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