The British Council worked face to face with 8,000 education leaders and teachers in Eastern Turkey to eradicate sexism from textbooks and school classrooms in the country.
The initiative was part of a two year €3.2 million project, Technical Assistance for Promoting Gender Equality in Education, designed and implemented by a British Council-led consortium to promote gender equality in education in Turkey. It was co-funded by the EU and the Turkish Government, with pilots in 40 schools, and came to an end on 18 September 2016.
Despite Turkish women having had the right to vote since 1934, they remain far from equal in contemporary society. Turkey is ranked 130th out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index.
While legally men and women enjoy the same status, the participation rate for women in the active labour force is 24 per cent, performing poorly against other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In parts of Eastern Turkey, only 15 per cent of girls go to school past the age of 11 and nationwide only 27 per cent of women have graduated from secondary school.
We spoke with Seda Mumcu, Head of Business Development for the British Council in Turkey, to understand more about the project - its ambitions, challenges, and the impact it has made on people’s lives:
How would you define gender equality?
In a sentence, gender equality is a principle that guarantees individuals to access and benefit from rights, opportunities, resources and services without being discriminated against based on their sex.
When we talk about gender equality in education, we refer to the assurance that every child or young person can access and benefit from opportunities and resources within the education system based on his/her individual skills, capabilities and preferences rather than according to their sex. However, this is sometimes confused; gender equality in education is not about access to education. It is about the opportunities that are provided for each student once they are in education and whether they can benefit from them in line with their skills and potential. It also refers to educators adopting a gender-sensitive approach and language within educational environments in order to end the reinforcement of traditionally-held gender roles in society.
Why is this project important, particularly in Turkey?
Gender inequality is a deeply-rooted problem in our country where traditional perceptions and prejudices around the roles of women and men in society are strongly held. Unfortunately, these perceptions are created and sometimes reinforced within the education system. Thus, any debate, training, policy recommendation, campaign or any other way of intervention in this issue is critical to support the change process.
Were there any unexpected challenges when delivering the project?
We faced some strong resistance from stakeholders at the beginning. This was mainly due to the sensitive nature of the gender equality concept in Turkey. We also had security issues; three of the ten pilot cities in the project were in security-sensitive cities in the southeast part of Turkey and so additional measures to implement the project safely in these cities were required.
What about outcomes – have the results surprised you at all?
Seeing the resistance at the beginning, I did not feel very hopeful about what we aimed to achieve in the pilot provinces. However, when we started working with teachers, school principals, parents and students, the level of engagement, changes in perception and questioning of existing gender codes were all astonishing.
Where do you expect the participants to be a year from now?
We have trained 8,000 educators face to face in this project and we believe that most of them will make use of their gender-sensitive learning within their own school environments. We also hope that most of the 12,000 students we have engaged with now have an awareness around this concept and will grow up to be gender-sensitive adults. Even a slight change in their perception can eventually start affecting society.
Finally, how do you think the project went overall?
This was quite a challenging project for us, but we reached many people within the education system. And, within wider society in Turkey, we also produced sustainable outputs and managed to make an impact. Not only have 50 per cent of the schools achieved sustainability in the implementation of the standard, but the findings of the report will be taken into consideration during the development of curricula and textbooks in the future. Seeing all of this makes me realise it was worth all of the effort and struggle we faced initially.
Although the project has come to a close, there have been some positive developments regarding its sustainability. Both the Ministry of National Education and a consultant from UNICEF have put gender equality in education in their annual work plan, with the aim of building on the outputs of this project. We also understand that within the next couple of months the Ministry will include a programme of in-service training on gender equality for teachers, based on the training packages that were produced during this project.
Quick facts about the project:
- 542 female teachers received leadership and entrepreneurship training.
- 14 curricula and 82 textbooks were reviewed.
- We reached approximately 12,000 students and 1,000 parents.
- Nearly 23 million people were reached through social media channels.
Find out more about the project, included more detail around the specific outputs, here.