By Pak Ka Liu
For the 16 Days of Action on Gender Violence, I’m thinking about Gender and Education.
Today is December 6th – National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Today is the day we commemorate the 14 women who were killed at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. The gunman purposely chose an engineering school to demonstrate his hatred toward women who are stepping out of the gender norm, who are pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. They were murdered because they were women. That was 1989.
Fast forward to 2012. When it comes to gender equality, often people will point to the perceived equality in school and workplaces. “Men and women are equal now,” they say. “There are more women in universities and look, they even have women CEOs! Heck, my boss is a woman!” Oh boy! How can we argue with these trivial, anecdotal “data”? The truth is, there ARE more women present in post-secondary in comparison to twenty years ago, and there have been increases in women’s participation in leadership positions in businesses, politics, and community in general. But we are nowhere near the equal status we are striving to achieve. Just a quick look at the statistics composed in the Women in Canada report and one can find a few sobering facts:
- About 50% of women enrolled in registered apprenticeship training programs such as electrical, electronic, and related trades do not complete their programs.
- There are less women graduating from physical and life sciences and technologies, mathematics, computer and information sciences, and architecture, engineering and related services programs from colleges in 2007 compare to 2001.
- In comparison, there is an increase of men enrolling and graduating from traditionally women-dominated college programs such as education, health, parks, recreation, and fitness.
- In 2005, young women aged 25 to 29 are still earning 85 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts.
- Although there has been an increase of women in managerial positions, women are still mostly represented in lower-level managers.
- Only 22.3% of professionals in the natural science, engineering, and mathematics are women.
Women are still reluctant to choose education programs in traditionally male-dominated fields. This is not just a women’s issue. Society has never benefited by actively excluding 50% of its population from participating. By discouraging and eliminating women in these professions, we are limiting the potential workforce that is required to bring us forward as a whole. Imagine what it is like to have access to only half of your brain. This is the exact scenario we see in our society today. One cannot truly believe that women have nothing to contribute in the field of physical sciences, mathematics, or engineering. And yet, the reality is that there are many forms of barriers that have been set up since the early ages that make these fields an unattractive option for young women.
On the 12th day of the 16Days of Activism, I challenge the gender norms that have been set up in our schools and institutions. I invite you to think about how we can create a more welcoming and encouraging education environment for both boys and girls to explore their talents and potentials. We cannot afford to waste any brains and hands if we want to eliminate the hordes of problems our species faces as a whole.