Consider some of the most important government services delivered to citizens – education might top the list. While education policy is largely a function of state government in the US, municipal governments take on much of the responsibility to administer educational programs and services in Israel. Science, math and history are required subject matter for growing youth, but there’s a significant “hidden curriculum” that must also be addressed. This hidden curriculum is a product of often unconscious gender stereotyping and biases from teachers and academic materials that perpetuate a distorted view of male and female roles.
But blame is not to be placed solely on the “hidden curriculum.”
Outside of the classroom, boys and girls absorb the boundless messages and imagery that both subject them to their constructed gender roles and demand from them unrealistic social expectations. Boys are conditioned to conceal their emotions, act tough and conquer women and women’s bodies. Girls grow up facing the media pressures of beauty, feeling that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to look in order to be socially accepted. Being exposed to pornography from a very young age, children adopt the mindset that sex is a game of power relations.
Parents and educators can play a crucial role in teaching teenagers the values of healthy sexuality and respectful communication between the genders, but they simply lack the necessary tools.
So, what can we do about it? There’s no better opportunity to undo many of the dishonest frameworks of gender and perceptions of sexuality than to teach about gender in schools, as well as integrate gender awareness and critical view into the curriculum. In Tel Aviv-Yafo, the second largest city in Israel, the municipality recognizes its pressing responsibility to implement and support education programs that expose students to the important value of gender equality.
Raising awareness of gender roles, gender-based violence, biases and stereotypes at school can help create a judgment-free environment conducive to self-expression and gender autonomy. Under the charge of the city, Tel Aviv-Yafo schools are taking action.
This isn’t the first time the city is advancing to combat traditional gender roles and stereotypes. The LGBT center, a municipal agency in Tel Aviv-Yafo, is a prime example.
Here, all people – no matter how they identify – are invited into a safe space for social events, cultural programs, support services and much more.
Similarly, the Municipality’s Office of Gender Issues, led by Ruti Sofer, the mayor’s adviser on gender issues, strives to make Tel Aviv-Yafo a Fair- Shared City for all of its citizens.
Beginning in 2000, the office has made concerted efforts to establish gender equality in the other departments of the municipality and in the greater community. Tel Aviv-Yafo is the first city in the world to formally embrace UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which confirms the “importance of [women’s] equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security” (Basciano & Enoch-Maoz).
Because the Office of Gender Issues sees the potential of schools to help re-frame perception of gender, it instigated a unique, multi-faceted and ongoing program entitled “Fair- Shared City in Schools” that targets teachers, teenagers and parents. The Office – and municipality as a whole – is helping to create tight cooperation between Tel Aviv-Yafo public schools and organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
This cooperation, and utilizing local experts in the topics of gender equality, yields a holistic approach to generate effective services in the program.
The program, created and managed by Or Seri, the gender policy manager in the office, is being trialled in several middle schools and high schools in Tel Aviv and in Yafo.
Its goal may be simple, but it is anticipated to have profound effects: to promote and spread awareness of gender equality and gender autonomy, both in school and beyond school bounds. The goal is to make each adolescent boy and girl feel their true sense of self, free of judgment from others and empowered to reject gender stereotypes and disrespectful communication.
A series of gender-related seminars and workshops kick off the successful program. Experts from partner organizations, including Mechaneh Meshutaf (“Common Ground”) and Delet Ptucha (“Open Door”), lecture teachers on healthy sexuality, the impact of stereotyping, gender- based violence prevention and more. Educators then deliver their knowledge to students in both the education and professional classes for open dialogue and mutual learning.
Besides just teaching directly about these topics, the Office of Gender Issues additionally supports the integration of gender-sensitive strategies into the curricula of traditional subjects.
For example, Tel Aviv-Yafo can parallel the techniques of the European- backed TWIST Project (“Towards Women in Science and Technology”), where students read “gender aware” stories in their history lessons and educators used gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language while teaching (NEMO Science Center, 2012).
It’s one thing to improve the inner school temperament regarding gender issues, but it’s another thing to inspire students by exposing them to external, exemplary men and women who defy gender stereotypes.
That’s why the program also takes teens on tours and field trips, like to the high-tech company Klarna to meet with female programmers and to the performing arts center Bikurey Haltim to watch professional male dancers perform, and later hear their personal stories.
At the conclusion of the program, students design projects to express what they’ve learned in a creative format. Parents and school faculty take part in a celebratory event for students’ project presentations.
The faculty in Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Office of Gender Issues takes the lead on this program, but relevant personnel in all departments of the municipality will be kept up to date on the program’s development. A questionnaire and feedback from partner organizations, faculty members and students are just some of the techniques that will help to measure the success of the program.
It’s no surprise that a progressive city like Tel Aviv-Yafo is working hard to challenge gender issues through an educational platform, but this is still the beginning. The push toward gender equality, and all related topics, will persist until all boys and girls feel comfortable expressing their genuine selves in all stages of their maturation,