Knowledge Day: why does Ukraine need gender education?

The new studying year starts today. You can get an economic, management or legal education almost at any university. However, how to become a certified specialist in gender-oriented budgeting or gender audit in Ukraine?

The new challenges are related not only to the coronavirus pandemic, but also to the gender education system in Ukraine. The number of specialists in gender issues is not enough, especially in regions that have a growing need of them caused by active promotion of decentralization.

Why is gender component so important in Ukrainian education?

Olena Masalitina, the candidate of philology and ex-advisor on gender equality and anti-discrimination in education to former Minister of Education Hanna Novosad, points out that the gender and non-discrimination component is important in Ukrainian education for the following reasons:

  • lots of gender stereotypes and prejudices are still active in Ukrainian society, which has significant harm for the achievement of equal opportunities for women and men; at the same moment education is one of the greatest powers in society, so it reinforces these stereotypes and it is necessary to conduct gender education both for adults and children, and also for people who create or implement educational content;
  • the integration of gender component in education programs at all levels of education is also important to pay attention to;
  • gender education is a part of active government policy, including school education of different levels;

Government commissioner for gender policy Kateryna Levchenko draws attention to the fact that education at all levels should meet modern needs, help to understand the directions of social development and solve problems that arise in private and public life.

According to her, gender education in Ukraine has to be developed and implemented in terms of Ukraine’s international obligations in the field of human rights and national legislation aimed at achieving gender equality.

“By the way, the Law “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men” names actions related to education among the directions of state gender policy: for example, education and promotion of culture of gender equality among the population of Ukraine, spreading the network of educational activities in this area ; protection of society from information aimed at discrimination on the grounds of sex and others”, – mentioned Kateryna Levchenko.

Olena Strelnyk, the Ukrainian sociologist, the doctor of sociology, says she supports the idea of reviewing the role of education in fighting gender inequality rather than formalizing gender education as a separate activity.

“Even implementing specialized courses or gender programs does not guarantee that the course will be gender-specific rather than gender-role, when a set of stereotypical judgments about the roles of women and men could be presented under the label ‘gender’,” she says.

What is state policy about gender education?

According to Olena Masalitina, the Ministry of Education has currently paused the activity of the Group on gender equality policy and combating discrimination in education (established in accordance with the Order № 713 of July 3, 2015) and there is no public separate position of gender advisers, so it is difficult to say anything about intentions of the current Ministry of Education in this area.

“Anti-discrimination expertise of school textbooks is in progress right now, and it is performed by the Institute of Modernization of Education and Ukrainian institute of Educational development (both institutions are parts of Ministry’s structure)”, – adds Masalitina.

Government commissioner for gender policy Kateryna Levchenko notes that gender education should not be limited by secondary education, but also should be implemented in preschool, higher education and postgraduate education.

She mentioned the preparation of Guidelines for the implementation of gender approaches in the educational process of the security and defense sector as an example of the introduction of gender education.

“This work was prepared by a team of authors – teachers of universities in the security and defense sector with the participation of Elena Suslova, who provided her expert support. This work has been carried out under the auspices of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration from the beginning to the present day, in coordination with the Government office for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and my scientific editorial board. This work comes to the end. And we expect that it will become an effective model for further implementation of gender education,” added Kateryna Levchenko.

What are the challenges for master programs on gender studies in Ukraine?

The problem of introducing specialized gender education at the level of master’s programs is geting worse due to the crisis situation in higher education in general and the steady decline in of students’ attention to master’s degrees in particular. This is the opinion of Olena Strelnyk, doctor of Sociology. According to her, there is a risk that universities could firstly get rid of non-core courses, which are often gender courses, in the conditions of reducing the number of students and, accordingly, the workload of teachers.

“Universities are rapidly losing their monopoly on knowledge, and now there are an incredible number of opportunities for gender self-education, including working on exclusively Ukrainian resources (for example, “Gender in detail”),” says Olena Strelnyk.

Olena Masalitina, Candidate of Philological Sciences, names the following among the main challenges for master’s programs in gender studies in Ukraine:

  • University management is not aware of the importance of such programs and does not make appropriate efforts to open them (or integrate the gender component into existing courses), along with developing, convening to the student audience their benefits;
  • This issue is not so important for the structural units of the Ministry of Education and Science, so universities do not receive any encouragement to open such programs;
  • There is a lack of – let me emphasize – highly qualified gender specialists in various fields who would promote the implementing of gender programs, so few people could join development and teaching in this sphere;
  • I would also mention the lack of students’ interest in this topic, but, fortunately, it has been increasing for the last few years.

Even though Ukraine has many programs on gender education, they are still the initiatives of public organizations and not obligatory for the general educational process. Yet gender policy is one of the state’s priorities, the educational process in this field is not system enough.

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