MDG 3 seeks to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education by 2015. By 2007, 54% of countries had achieved equality in enrollment in primary schools, and of the 93 countries studied, 82 had increased or maintained equality. Progress is generally regarded as steady, but the results are mixed, and more work needs to be done to ensure the active participation of girls at all levels of education.
Persepolis, which had its theatrical release in 2007 and nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, captures the complexities of the struggle for gender equality -and the enforcers of inequality- quite beautifully. The film is co-written and co-directed by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman whose graphic novels of the same name are the basis of the story and artwork in the film. Persepolis is a middle class coming-of-age story – but a very interesting one because Marjane is 10 years old when the Iranian Revolution happens.
A lot of the stories we hear about girls being denied access to education focus on the restrictions placed on girls in families in which their brother’s education takes precedence, or in which the parents don’t believe in education for girls. But, raised as an only child of progressive parents, Marjane’s situation is different.
Educated mom? Check. Dad who believes that women and girls are important and should be on an equal playing field with men and boys? Check. Firecracker grandma who encourages her granddaughter? Check. But these elements aren’t quite enough to grant her the full privileges of intellectual and social freedom, because the Iranian Revolution takes the country down the road of conservatism. Education is suddenly sex-segregated, and girls’ personal expression in terms of dress and speech is severely limited.
As Persepolis shows, eliminating gender disparities in education needs to have buy-in on several levels: girls’ families need to see the value of education and support it, and institutions and governments need to uphold policies that prioritize the education of girls. Furthermore, it needs to be financially viable for families to send their girls to school; once in school, girls must be treated with equality and respect by their teachers and male classmates.
This week’s MDG Summit offers a perfect opportunity to work to make sure that support for gender equality is fostered at each of the levels necessary to truly eliminate gender disparities and ensure full equality for women and girls.