Education Widens the Gap Between the Sexes
Date:1975 c.
Organisation:Irish Women United
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

13th March 2017

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

This is a fascinating document issued by the Education Department of Irish Women United, a feminist organisation established in 1975. A short précis like this cannot possibly do justice to what is a closely argued 28 page publication, however the Introduction gives a sense of the contents.

Since most of these inequalities [between women and men] are perpetuated by men and women conditioned into stereotyped sex-roles it is argued that they will only be eliminated by a younger generation unsullied by such conditioning or sex-roles behaviours patterns. But how is such a generation to arise in homes where parents re-enforce sex appropriate behaviour and display sexual inequality as the norm?

And:

One of the major influences in forming the values and ideas of young people is that of education. In this paper we illustrate that education, far from being an influential factor in helping to create a new consciousness of equal status for women and men or girls and boys, is in fact a major influence in maintaining and re-enforcing existing sexual inequalities. Through our research and discussion, we in the education workshop of Irish Women United have reached the conclusion that our education system is in no way our agent of change in the roles and opportunities it makes available to girls and boys. We have come to the realisation that education widens the gap between the sexes and discriminates severely against girls both in the actual availability or subjects and course, and in the oppressive attitudes it portrays concerning women and the role of women and girls in society.

A lot is applicable to today. The point is made that pre-school education is treated as a charitable institution by the government. There are many thought-provoking facts throughout the text, not least that at the time written 1.7% of girls and 4.8% of boys left school at the group certificate, while 12.3% of girls and 9.4% of boys left at the Intermediate Certificate. Another fact mentioned is that in 1975 of 2,189 designated apprentices there were only 5 women amongst them. The gender tilt in Leaving Certificate Honours examinations in 1974 by girls and boys is stark.

The pamphlet is broken down into sections: The facts of sexual inequality; Attitudes on the inferiority of women transmitted through education and The framework of course criticism.

The conclusion argues that:

…while it is important for women involved in education to work together to fight for the establishment of women’s studies programs in all courses and faculties and to work out critics of their own particular field of study, we in the Education Workshop of Irishwomen United feel that it is also important for such women to involved themselves in the mainstream of the women’s movement.

And it notes that ‘our day to day work and research is carried out by workshops on topics such as contraception, social welfare, employment, etc’.

More from Irish Women United

Irish Women United in the archive


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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 14 Mar 2017 18:25:44

    It has probably changed. My then WUI union branch which organised ANCO discussed inequality with someone from the womens movement, Anne O’Brien (cannot remember which org.) I made the point that the then low take up of Honours Maths by young women militated against them succeed ing in Engineering, Science, now called STEM.
    I wonder how much things have changed.

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