No to gender bias in education


EDUCATION is a life-long quest that should and could broaden a person’s outlook, opening him or her to new experiences. It should make people independent and disciplined in their thinking, and deeply committed to some productive activity, besides possessing convictions based on an understanding of the world and on their own integration of personality.  

Sometimes the barrier to such development for women is their own rigid preconception, through influence of their families and educators, that they have a sexual role and should place more emphasis on marriage. 

Ten years ago in the United States, it was presumed that the campus was the world’s best marriage market. 

Boys, married or not, were there to stretch their minds to find their own identity to fill out their life plan, while the girls were there to fulfil their sexual function. 

Research revealed that 90% or more of the rising number of US campus wives, who were motivated for marriage by their fantasy and need to conform, were literally working their husbands’ way through college. 

Today the scenario has changed, as government, both as the ruling administration of a country as well as an employer, AND the private sector propagate policies of education and employment with no gender discrimination. 

Malaysia is a good role model and it is a known fact that the intake of female students in our universities is about 65%. 

However, while they are in the right direction, attitudes and implementation may not necessarily support such gender friendly policies. For example, WIM had given short placement training for women government officers from Sudan. We were also asked to deliver small business training for women entrepreneurs in Sudan. 

A leading Malaysian corporation that had won concessions for drilling oil in Sudan has sponsored many Sudanese men in various skills training. But when we approached it for help to sponsor this training for Sudanese women entrepreneurs, our request was denied.  

In another example, in the US even as recently as Jan 14, 2005, the controversial President of Harvard University, Larry Summers, Treasurer-General under the administration of former President Bill Clinton, created controversy and received harsh criticism when he remarked that women do not have the same natural ability in maths and science as men. 

Summers later apologised for any harm he may have done to his university’s efforts to advance the role of women. 

While we in Malaysia are proud to have women heading, and doing well in, Bank Negara (Reserve Bank) and the Space Research Centre, there is much more to be desired in positions such as secretaries–general of government ministries, state secretariats, district officers, in the Police Force, the Military, etc.  

In the political arena, while we have a number of highly-educated women politicians with good track records, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them when it comes to the high positions of Mentri Besar or Chief Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or Prime Minister. 

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when posed the question at a recent interview with WIM, said it was not wishful thinking but he does not see Malaysian women holding these high offices now. He said it would take more than 10 years to achieve this. 

I am, however, encouraged that global giants such as IBM and Shell are giving great importance to the issue of Global Diversity. The Royal Dutch Shell Group launched its Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy in year 2000 and the division dealing with this Policy is based in London. WIM was privileged to have received a delegation from Shell London to discuss ways of co-operation in this direction. 

Datuk Jon Chadwick, chairman of Shell Malaysia, in an interview with WIM said: “Greater women’s rights and female participation in public life are associated with cleaner business and cleaner government”. 

Chadwick’s conviction is backed by no less than the World Bank, which released a “Year 2000 Study on Women” ahead of the UN Special Session on Women in New York in that same year. 

The study concluded that societies that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant price in terms of more poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance and lower quality of life.  

Chadwick’s words are shored up by hard-nose business sense too. Making reference to the high percentage of female university undergraduates in Malaysia, he said, “Business has to ensure that we do not deprive ourselves of the opportunity to develop leaders of the future from this talent base. To ignore this talent pool would be shooting ourselves in the foot”. 

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has a right to Education”.  

Fifty-seven years on, the majority of girls throughout the world today remains untouched by education. 

Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “When women are in charge, there is less corruption, more transparency and resources are better used. It has been proven that when the income is given to the woman of the family, the nutritional value to the family increases eight times more than when the money is given to the man.” 

Nevertheless, said Stephen Woodhouse of Unicef, nine million girls between the ages of seven and 18 worldwide are denied education every year. 

Study after study has found that girls’ education has emerged as the single best investment which society can make. When a woman is educated she will be able to handle social, economic, health and environmental issues, and, more importantly, know her rights. She will be able to contribute towards the enhancement of her family and community. 

Governments and NGOs have a crucial role to play in providing remedies so that girls are not left out of the loop in education. They also have to change the mundane and stereotyped systems of education, which pushes down knowledge so that students merely become human sponges absorbing knowledge, not knowing how to apply it.  

The student of this era must be a creature of innovation, high efficiency and discipline to remain competitive in a fast growing global village.  

  • Datuk Dr Nellie S.L. Tan-Wong can be reached via e-mail at: nelliet@pd.jaring.my or nellietw@streamyx.com 

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