The UN published promising news in the global fight for gender equality and opportunity on Wednesday, showing that when it comes to mathematics, girls are now performing as strongly as boys in the classroom – although there are plenty of barriers holding them back.
The finding, from the UN agency UNESCO, followed analysis of primary and secondary education in 120 countries.
Although boys perform better than girls in the subject in the early years, this gender gap disappears in secondary school – even in the world’s poorest countries – researchers found.
Girls in the lead
Some countries even saw girls do better than boys in maths, including Malaysia, where by age 14, girls have a seven per cent lead on boys, Cambodia (three per cent) and the Philippines (1.4 per cent).
Despite this progress, the UN educational, cultural and scientific agency, warned that gender “biases and stereotypes” will continue to affect girls’ schooling, as boys “are far more likely to be overrepresented” at the top level of maths, in all countries.
The problem extends to science, with data from middle and high-income countries showing that although girls in secondary school score significantly higher in scientific studies, they are still less likely to opt for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects.
Girls’ chapter and verse
While girls perform well in maths and science, they show even greater proficiency in reading, with more of them achieving minimum proficiency in reading than boys.
The largest gap in primary education is in Saudi Arabia, UNESCO said, where 77 per cent of girls but only 51 per cent of boys in grade 4 (age 9-10), achieve minimum proficiency in reading.
In Thailand, girls outperform boys in reading by 18 percentage points, in the Dominican Republic by 11 points and in Morocco by 10 points.
Even in countries where girls and boys have the same level of reading in the early grades – as in Lithuania and Norway – by the age of 15, girls are roughly 15 percentage points ahead of boys.
“Girls are demonstrating how well they can do in school when they have access to education,” said Malala Yousafzai, co-founder of Malala Fund, cited by UNESCO. “But many, and particularly the most disadvantaged, are not getting the chance to learn at all. We shouldn’t be afraid of this potential.
“We should feed it and watch it grow. For example, it’s heart-breaking that most girls in Afghanistan do not have the opportunity to show the world their skills,”
“Although more data is needed, recent releases have helped paint an almost global picture of gender gaps in learning outcomes right before the pandemic”, said Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report.
“Girls are doing better than boys in reading and in science and are catching up in mathematics. But they are still far less likely to be top performers in mathematics because of continuing biases and stereotypes. We need gender equality in learning and ensure that every learner fulfils their potential”.
In conversation with Manasi Gupta about Hues of the Mind
Manasi Gupta is a social entrepreneur and an engineer by profession. At the age of nineteen, she founded Huesofthemind, a nonprofit organisation to provide mental health services which have impacted 50,000 beneficiaries with its initiatives. She is a mental health advocate and wants to make mental health resources more accessible, affordable, and available.
She often reiterates the importance of taking care of oneself and encourages mental wellbeing through her workshops, delivering 50+ talks worldwide at the University of Nairobi, Delhi University, and NIFT Mumbai, to name a few. She is also a published author of the book, Hues of You, which raised funds for mental health resources.
She has been conferred nationally for her team’s efforts by the former Health Secretary of India and interviewed by The Times of India. She will be representing India in the upcoming One Young World Summit and is one of the 28 Applicants to receive 100% scholarship from 50,000 applicants worldwide.
What has the overall impact of your work been like?
More than ten thousand beneficiaries have directly been impacted by our workshops, conferences, and events. These beneficiaries are of varying age groups, ranging from eight-year-olds to thirty-year-olds. These sharing spaces have been in different locations, ranging from India to the United States of America, Nepal, South Korea and more.
We raise awareness on our social media platforms, which have witnessed more than a hundred collaborations for content, campaigns, and live social media events. Our social media platforms on Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter have a cumulative reach of an average of five thousand users virtually.
Other than that, our multiple initiatives have impacted more than ten thousand users and subscribers. Our newsletter HuesLetter has had nearly forty successful editions, reaching more than a thousand subscribers. Huesofthemind’s podcasts in Hindi and English have reached more than a thousand listeners. Our virtual repository that helps people connect with professional help has received an average of a thousand users per month since its inception in June.
Our team has also been interviewed by The Times of India, the National newspaper of India, and by AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organization, thereby inspiring thousands more.
Hence, we’ve nearly impacted close to fifty thousand beneficiaries worldwide.
What other projects do you plan to undertake in the near future?
Educating, engaging and empowering communities, especially the youth, is crucial. Access to affordable healthcare services is a right of every human being, and awareness is the primary step in receiving the right healthcare services. Non-judgemental sharing spaces, focused on expression, are crucial to mental well-being. My mission is to foster these spaces with the funding I receive in the program.
I have seen a dire lack of education when it comes to mental health, thereby contributing to the stigma around it. I also believe that technology can significantly elevate the depth and breadth of the impact one can have. HuesEd by Huesofthemind is an interactive interface that would help shed light on the various aspects of knowledge in the realm of psychology & mental health education. This interface would inspire our audiences to know more about common misconceptions and hardly known yet essential concepts that require more awareness, given their gravitas
What is your illustrated book all about?
We published our illustrated book, Hues of You in June 2021. Our team has worked relentlessly to create this wholesome coffee table book. The proceeds we receive go towards making therapy more and more accessible to everyone around us.
Sharing is cathartic
Carrying this vision forward, we, at Huesofthemind, crafted a book with research-backed articles, self-help resources, our journeys- in prose and poetry & so much more.
People have found our spaces ‘life changing’, which has motivated our team to empower many more lives. I firmly believe that we are glistening with the potential to brighten our lives and those of others.
Which all conferences have you attended so far? Any advice for people who want to attend more conferences?
ECOSOC Youth Forum
One Young World
For me, the key values that really shine in any individual & their respective work are,
Authenticity, passion & courage.
Any specific programs or fellowships you are planning to join in the near future?
Not at the moment
Anything else you would like to share?
Access to the correct information regarding healthcare services is a right of every human being. My vision is to make that come true. Awareness is the primary step in receiving the right healthcare services.
The presence of misinformation is a challenge that our present world faces, and access to educational resources from reliable sources can help combat that. I also truly believe that the inclusion of education in the curriculum with the help of a top-down approach involving changes in public policy can support this vision come true. I have seen a dire lack of education when it comes to mental health, thereby contributing to the staggering stigma around it. Education can assist an individual in being more aware, informed, and thereby help them make the right decisions.
Along with physical health, access to mental health resources and services should not be a luxury. I also believe that technology can significantly elevate the depth and breadth of the impact one can have. This idea involves the use of wearable devices to track vital information and ideas to improve the overall wellbeing of a person.
Ups And Downs of Women’s Property Rights
In the English speaking world during the first part of the 19th century, women were considered either too frivolous or even weak-minded to be entrusted with their inherited wealth, control of which transferred to the husbands upon marriage.
It wasn’t until the 1848 Married Women’s Property Act was passed by New York State that women got the right to keep their own wages and to own property in their own name. Some other states began to pass their own acts along the same lines and by 1900 all of them had done so.
Across the Atlantic in England, the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 allowed them to keep earned and inherited property. This was later superseded by the broader 1882 Act which also served as a model for British territories abroad.
Again, it might surprise people to learn that until the mid-1970s financial institutions like banks routinely denied married women in the U.S. loans or credit cards in their own name. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, signed by Gerald Ford into law in 1974, finally put an end to this kind of discrimination.
Beware however, that women’s rights have had ups and downs throughout history. As an example, consider Ancient Egypt where women enjoyed a legal status of equality with men. They retained their property even after marriage, and property jointly acquired with husbands belonged one-third to the wife. They could dispense with their wealth as they wished.
An example is the will of Naunakht (Writings from Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson – Penguin Classics) drawn up in the third year of the reign of Ramses V. Thus it has been dated with precision to 1147 B.C. She had fourteen witnesses signifying the importance of a will and perhaps also to preclude any contesting of it.
Naunakht married twice, first a scribe and then a tomb workman named Khaemnun. No children from the first marriage but four boys and four girls from the second. Naunakht makes it quite clear she wants to dispossess three of her children and leave her property to the five who have looked after her in her old age. However, she cannot prevent the three she disinherits from inheriting their father’s property.
About a year after the will was made, the whole family had to appear before a court for a second legal hearing to confirm that they would respect the terms of the will.
In her declaration, she lists those to whom she has left her property and in one case additional gifts of a bronze washing bowl and ten sacks of emmer. She also lists the disinherited ones, noting that “they shall not share in the division of my one-third, but they shall share in the two-thirds of their father.”
Anyone going back on the agreement would be subject to a hundred blows and be deprived of the property. Contesting wills was clearly hazardous.
As for the rights of women, consider the millennia it has taken to get us in the West to where the Egyptians were with regard to women’s property rights.
A Glimpse of The Middle Class in Ancient Egypt and its Lesson
It is a tidy fact that history is written not of the common people and their circumstances but of the rulers, their families, their intrigues, their courtiers … and nobles and their intrigues; in short, the squables of those who rule us and the machinations in pursuit of even more power … also in consequence, wealth.
So an encounter with the life of a middle class minor official (“Writings from Ancient Egypt” by Toby Wilkinson, Penguin Classics) and his vicissitudes from the mundane to the important — as when he addresses his superiors — affords an eye opener if only to the extent that life goes on as much the same whether now or in Egypt around 1147 B.C. Three thousand years and human behavior remains human behavior.
Heqanakht, the official, was obliged to travel frequently in connection with his duties and he writes to Merisu, his steward, on matters like the proper cultivation of his land, rental agreements, quality of grain, and finally on matters connected with his household.
One can imagine the toilers of the Nile wetlands working incredibly hard to coax out a crop of which a portion was paid to the landowner as rent. Each step required exertion as feet sank into the wet mud. The practice of paying landowners a portion of the crop still prevails and in the US midwest it is commonly a third. On the other hand, if the soil is particularly rich as in Indiana, the tenant might be willing to pay more.
Our friend Heqanakht also has other concerns: his wife has complaints about being bullied by Senen, the new housemaid. If Heqanakht is hectoring in tone, irritable and bossy, often including terms like ‘Watch out’ or ‘Don’t ignore it’, he appears to have a tender side in his regard for his mother, Ipi, and his clear fondness for his son Sneferu, his ‘pride and joy.’
The extended family in his care is reminiscent of Asian families to this day, particularly on the Indian subcontinent, and the resident mother-in-law is still around even in the West if she hasn’t been shunted to an old folks home.
In another letter, Heqanakht writes to his immediate superior, the Overseer of Lower Egypt. The tone here is altogether different. He opens the missive with the words, ‘Your condition is life itself, a million times. May … all the gods act for you … sweeten your heart greatly with life and an old age’. He addresses him as ‘Your Honor — Life, Prosperity, Health’ and adds the very same well-wishing three words every time he refers to him in the letter.
To Merisu he says, ‘Greetings to my mother Ipi a thousand times, a million times.’ About his son Sneferu .. ‘Now didn’t I say that Sneferu, my pride and joy, a thousand times, a million times. Watch out for Anubis and Sneferu. You live by them and die by them.’
‘Have that housemaid, Senen, thrown out of any house — see to it — on whatever day Subathor (the messenger) reaches you … act: You are the one who lets her do bad things to my wife. Look, how have I made it distressful for you? What did she do against you to make you hate her?’
‘And have a letter brought explaining what is collected from those debts of Perhaa. See to it. Don’t ignore it.’
Business must go on and life goes on with its attendant problems. Have things changed much?
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