Schools and education as driver for change in Ningxia
The gender gap is a global issue and many countries are plagued with it. Gender stereotypes, resulting in for instance early marriage, school drop-out, or even becoming a child-mother, can be harmful to girls’ development. According to Haider Yaqub, Country Director Plan International China, making a change is all about tackling the root causes rather than just addressing the symptoms: “With enough effort we can overcome the gap, using interventions which don’t just raise issues or awareness but also addresses the underlying stereotypes.”
The NGO Plan International focusses on child rights and equality for girls. “We’ve been working on different projects in China since the mid 90’s, and in this period there’s been a massive shift in income and economic development in the country. Plan International has also changed its program, shifting from hardware support for schools towards supporting specific groups and projects such as equality in education for girls,” explains Haider.
One of the projects Plan International manages in China is a school-project in Ningxia, funded with support from Plan International in Netherlands. Maarten Heetderks, Policy Officer at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Beijing, is enthusiastic about the project: “Gender equality and equal education opportunities are essential for development, well-being and peace. The Netherlands stands for this, for equal treatment, for equal opportunities and for the right to live your own life in safety.”
Through cooperation with a local school, awareness is raised on gender stereotypes within the ethnic minority community. “It really is a journey,” says Haider. “These social and cultural norms have been in place for years. The only way to address them is to do it in a way which is meaningful to the children especially girls, the teachers and the families. We give the schools and teachers the tools to make this change, help them challenge the gender divide. We have undertaken capacity building interventions where teachers are equipped with skills to deliver gender equality training in a participatory way, which is very engaging for the students.”
Any lasting change has to start at a really basic level, such as encouraging primary school girls in rural areas to explore the IT world by getting into coding and robotics. Towards the future, Plan International aims to set up more projects to support marginalized youth especially girls and young women. STEM education is a key entry point as it prepares girls to enter into high tech labor market which will open new venues for their employment. “Labor market participation is a significant factor when it comes to gender equality. Career planning is almost nonexistent in rural China. Just equipping adolescents with skills or knowledge is not enough. A smooth transit to working life and society can help girls gain an independent life.”