Gender Inequality in Peruvian Education
I am back in Vancouver, Canada after almost a year living in Lima, Peru working for UNICEF. I was very sad to leave Peru, for reasons I will write about in the coming weeks, but it is also very nice to be home. But as (reverse) culture shock goes, the sharp contrasts between the two places I now consider home is overwhelming. Although Vancouver is so clean and calm compared to Lima, I find the silence around me as I sit at my computer quite eerie. But my thoughts about the similarities and differences between these places will be the subject of another post.
Today, as I was thinking about the silence around me, I remembered the important video recently produced by UNICEF Peru called “La Escuela del Silencio” (“The School of Silence”) about gender inequality in Peruvian education. So far, it is only available in Spanish but the imagery throughout the scenes is telling enough for non-Spanish speakers (and it also provides a glimpse into Peru’s wonderful diversity of cultures and landscapes – Andes, Amazon, big city, etc.):
It opens with the scene of a girl standing in front of her class, too shy to speak. Then, it reveals some shocking statistics:
- 76% of the illiterate people in Peru are women
- Women’s income is 35% below that of men
- 87% of the victims of domestic violence are women
The narrator posits that the reasons behind many of these kinds of statistics are developed during school years. Not only do they face inequalities in their classrooms – forced to sit at the back, called upon less, made to do the classroom cleanup chores, underrepresented in textbooks, etc. – but they are also likely to have many responsibilities outside of school such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for siblings. For example, the video shows Laura in Lima who must wake, bathe, and feed her four younger siblings before going to school, and who has to work an afternoon job to support the family. She often has to miss school because of these other responsibilities. In Ucayali, in the Amazon, the video shows the boys playing soccer outside while the girls are inside preparing food and taking care of younger siblings.
Girls may also face threats and violence that deter them from attending school. For example, Maria, a 16 year old in the Ayacucho region in the Andes, cannot go to secondary school because it is over an hour away and there are boys from the neighbouring communities that have threatened her during her walk. According to the video, 30% of girls that live in rural areas cannot attend secondary school. The video also explains that 94% of the victims of sexual violence are women, and that many adolescent girls who get pregnant are taken out of school.
The video demands a change in Peruvian education, one that takes into account these inequalities and starts to take concrete steps to change them. We need to see changes in the curriculum, policies, and behaviours of representatives at all levels of the education system that takes into account this focus on gender, that make it explicit and ensure that steps are being taken to overcome the great inequalities that still exist. This video is a step in the right direction, a bold presentation by UNICEF to highlight a problem in the country that is often overshadowed or dismissed. UNICEF is now presenting this video to various actors in the government and education system to highlight the need for a focus on gender inequality in Peruvian education.
I also think this video could be integrated into lesson plans in Spanish and Social Studies classes, as it not only provides a glimpse into the linguistic, cultural, and social diversity of Peru, but also highlights important issues that would make for excellent classroom discussions.