[March 8, International Women’s Day] Co-education, an education in equality

"My mother says that my school is an example to follow. I don't know why she says that, but she insists that it is unusual that in other schools, teachers may allow us girls to play football at break. She also likes seeing my friend Thomas play dolls with Luis, and she encourages me to spend more time with Javier so that he may teach me how to prepare meals in his little kitchen. However, my friend Rosa and I prefer to play with plaster and draw cars in the blackboard. My grandmother says it all seems very strange to her and that when she was little it was usual was for girl to stay quietly at break whilst the boys played ball, but my mother doesn't agree and says that those were different days..." 

This disagreement between generations could take place in any family that wished to break the traditional masculine and feminine roles that we are used to. 

When we talk of sexual stereotypes we refer to the behaviour that society expects from men and women and that they try to fulfil and demand others to do so, even without being aware of it. For example one always expects a woman to be sensitive, good mother, hardworking and housewife. On the other hand a man should show a harder character, more reserved, someone who brings the money home, who leads the family, who drives and who takes care of the finances. 

All these roles start to be acquired since birth. The family, social environment, school, media and work are the main areas where the sexual stereotypes are learnt. This is why it is important to work on each one of them so as to raise awareness on how they condition the lives of men and women, cutting their freedom to choose, to feel, think, behave... and hindering the full development of their capacities.


Co- education, key for equity 

To co- educate means to educate in equality, regardless of the sex of the person. It means to identify all the stereotypes associated to masculine and feminine, be aware of them, think them over and implement measures to abolish them form the language and from our behaviour, promoting those aspects that are annulled by the fact of assuming gender roles: the affectionate side in men and the professional development in women. 

At present, co-education starts to be a line of action in some schools since these have a certain importance in the transmission of values and therefore it should give, with the family, example in order to achieve a non sexist society. Schools that bet on co -education have a plan and a management team qualified for equity education. Teachers who make sure that both the education materials and their way of addressing the students are free of stereotypes, so that boys and girls may have the same development opportunities and freedom of choice.


Entreculturas bets on co- education 

Teacher training 

In this context, Entreculturas with its firm commitment on co- education has started an Education Teacher Training Programme for Gender Equity and Development. This plan is in the framework of the campaign "Move for equality" that Entreculturas is carrying out with Action Aid and Intered and with the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development(AECID). This initiative answers a basic issue: in order to take into account the gender perspective in the education world, it is essential for teachers to be trained and to be aware of the inequality of gender and its consequences. 

With this training we seek that teachers may have the necessary tools  to identify sexist aspects, question their practice and promote change in gender relationships, becoming a reference for the children with whom they relate to. 

Co education is not possible if theory is not accompanied by activities; for example when talking of women's dignity and in the teacher's room one can hear denigrating jokes etc.


Co- education didactic materials

In addition to teacher training, Entreculturas wants to support the teacher's efforts for equity, proposing education materials with a co- education focus. What does this mean? To apply a co- education model in the text books used by the students means to defend gender equity in aspects such as non sexist language in the books, images and the contents that should transmit ideas and values based on equity and recognizing women's role throughout History. 

All Entreculturas education materials respect, transversally, a co- education focus and at the same time include specific chapters on the need to promote gender equity. Some examples: the materials of the campaign Is it the Same?, oriented towards understanding the origin of the disadvantages that hinder equal opportunities, especially in education, or the campaign "Eyes that do See", focused to promote education processes for social transformation by inclusive practices in school.


Co- education Projects in the South

Entreculturas tries to transmit co- education perspective to those development activities it carries out in the less favoured countries of the South. We want gender equality to become our way of life, aware that both men and women must have the same opportunities in order to have the same rights.

Project for the inclusion of girls in the Peruvian education system:"  girls are important"

The Peruvian Institute of Education in Human Rights and Peace, IPEDEHP, with whom Entreculturas,  Intered  and the Network of Rural Fe y Alegría Schools, collaborate, has identified the exclusion of girls in the education system as one of the gravest violations of their rights and one of the causes of inequality they will suffer for life. In addition, this marginal situation is deepened in the rural areas.

On many occasions the school and its organization are the main reasons for the scarce presence of women in schools. For example, the lack of specific hygienic services for girls or the long distances that make the journey dangerous for youngsters are reasons that affect decisively their school attendance.

In these cases, it is the parents who, facing the need for help in order to survive, prefer the girls to leave school in order to work or attend the household chores excluding them from any development possibility and condemning them to invisibility and ignorance. Even those girls who have assumed submission as a normal behaviour for women, are incapable to demand their right to an education.

In these contexts, teachers are important change agents, but they do need a previous specific training in order to be aware of this injustice.

Facing this analysis, it was decided to work on teacher training, raising awareness on parents, education in values for children and the improvement of self esteem in girls and elaborating non sexist didactic materials in order to contribute to reinforce all this work in favour of equity.

In as much as the teachers may understand and may feel solidarity with the situation of inequality in girls, they will be able to make the school into a welcoming space for them, remembering always to pay attention to the deficient formation that some stereotypes may have caused in boys.

The pedagogic proposal of the IPEDEHP has been defined as the "Tenderness Pedagogy" understood as the art in education and teaching with affection, sensibility, avoiding to hurt, trying to treat each one as a person, how to be valuable, unique and individual. This pedagogy, to assume that all human beings are different in characteristics but equal in dignity and rights, prevents discrimination since it accepts and values diversity as part of the richness in human relations.

The IPEDEHP makes its most significant and original contribution in the elaboration of the didactic materials in the education games, considering that a game makes the learning process easy. Here are some of the proposals:

"Debating on women's rights". This is a game directed to teachers with a didactic guide for work in groups. The game seeks that both men and women, address the main inequalities lived by women, think over the consequences, become aware of all the things they can do to change the situation and become committed and motivated for change.

"Walking towards our children's rights". This game is in Quechua and Spanish, and is used to work with parents on the rights of their children. The success of the game, even with an illiterate population, is due to the fact that it helps them remember their own childhood, and from there, to analyze the life of their children, stimulating their will and commitment to change those situations and attitudes that make them suffer and are a violation of their rights. It has a small guide with the declaration of children's rights, the laws that protect those rights, the institutions they can go to when in need of help to defend the children and some of the fundamental ideas on the importance of good infant treatment.

"Memory for Equals". To enable children to recognize the similarities in the midst of the differences of the people. This game helps the children to become aware that that people are different but are the same in dignity and rights.