Gender equality awareness has been rising around the globe. This movement has inspired a discussion about creating gender-inclusive schools.
Gender inclusivity in education is not only about removing the discriminating dogma about gender differences, but also about allowing the optimum level of individuality in every person. However, many people are still skeptical about the idea of gender inclusivity, which they often view as impractical.
In this article, I will discuss why we should consider making schools gender-inclusive environments for students and offer some ideas on implementation.
We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, and to exercise our diversity.
— Max De Pree
Gender Inclusivity In Schools
Author Max De Pree cites three important aspects of an individual—personal growth, being oneself, and exercising diversity. According to De Pree, personal growth is achieved by giving every individual equal access to the resources they need to grow.
Making schools gender-inclusive is one of the ways to provide this space for everyone. Gender inclusivity is defined by Goehring (2017) as the idea that includes and validates all gender identities and expressions. To make it simple, equality and equity for all.
Gender-inclusive schools are places that take steps to allow every student to express their gender identity. Most of the student's time is spent inside the school; it is in school where they mostly learn, develop, and grow—not just in classrooms, but also within the environment of the institution that contributes to their individuality.
There are some instances where some students are not able to express themselves inside their own homes. This is where schools may come into action and give these students a place and opportunity to express themselves by being gender-inclusive.
In line with this, Udvari-Solner (1996) argues that inclusive curricula are based on the view that learning occurs when students are actively involved in taking the lead in making sense of their experiences. Hence, in gender-inclusive schools, students are not just accepted for who they are. They are also being encouraged to be involved in actively embracing and accepting themselves.
Advantages of Gender Inclusivity in Schools
After getting a grasp of the idea of gender inclusivity among schools, let us discuss some of its advantages.
- Gender-inclusive schools lead the students to their individual growth through equality and freedom that they can experience from the environment. Having the freedom to express themselves freely and having to feel a community that accepts and supports them may help the students in unleashing their full potential as an individual. In line with this, Clarke (2006) states that freedom is a valuable means for self-development or individual growth of an individual enabling them to develop their inner natures and capacities. For example, some students are afraid to raise their hands during class recitations or join school organizations because they felt that they are inferior to others because of their gender preference. Hence, they won’t be able to show their full capabilities which hinder their growth as an individual.
- Maximizing capabilities inside a gender-inclusive school can lead to self-discovery. Gender-inclusive schools may provide an atmosphere and environment free from discrimination and inequality. Such an environment provides a feeling of acceptance for every individual, which can lead to fully understanding oneself and unleashing their full potential. Moreover, the idea of accepting others may be simple, but it has a huge impact on those who are receiving the acceptance. The feeling of acceptance from other people could lead to their own self-acceptance, relief, and emotional and mental soundness.
- Gender-inclusive schools can encourage students to be accepting and open to diversity and differences. Aside from its effect on the self of students, gender-inclusive schools can also help in instilling inclusion into their own personal values. Gender inclusivity promotes accepting social interactions within the student body. Moreover, social integration is one of the remarkable effects of gender inclusion because it could make every student respect and embrace one another, in the simplest term, understanding. Everyone understands that no one shall be alone because of differences. Accordingly, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, (2017) stated that individual differences shall not be seen as problems to fix, but as an opportunity to enrich learning.
Disadvantages of Gender Inclusivity in Schools
Despite these positive effects of having gender inclusion in schools, skeptics of the idea pointed out several disadvantages of the movement.
- It is argued that it is impractical to create gender-inclusive schools considering the little number of trans children in the population. It was argued by Dr. Joanna Williams, a British author, and academic researcher, in a news article, that, “Introducing transgender policies in schools is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money and only confuses children further.” Hence, it is a waste of money to create policies, training and practices, and gender-neutral restrooms, for example, considering the limited funds for schools.
- Dr. Williams also argues that the implementation of gender inclusion can bring confusion to the children about their own gender at an early age – that such practice only encourages children to question whether they are a boy or a girl. (Pells, 2017)
- In terms of gender-neutral restrooms, it is argued that it is still important to use separate restrooms to avoid the possible rise of sexual assaults inside the facilities.
Implementing Gender inclusivity
To address the foreseen disadvantages posited by critics, it is important to note that gender inclusivity is not an either-or concept. Gender inclusivity is a process and a continuous movement; it evolves through time that adjusts according to the needs of an individual’s welfare. The following are one of the ways which can be done in implementing gender inclusivity in schools.
- Becoming a gender-inclusive school does not always mean doing and applying everything. As it was stated by UNESCO (2017), “It is important to find ways of addressing the needs of the most marginalized and of student diversity that does not necessarily demand extra funding and additional resources.” Therefore, it is not necessary for schools to outright build facilities and use funds to be a gender-inclusive environment. Being a gender-inclusive school can start by creating an environment of awareness, understanding, and respect for the different identities of its students.
- Gender inclusivity aims to provide awareness and guidance to children at an early stage to avoid confusion when they grow older, thus, children are to be guided by the institution through their journey of knowing and accepting themselves.
- In creating gender-neutral facilities, it is also important to create steps to protect everyone’s safety.
The issue of gender-inclusive schools is still a long-term debate among different groups of people who only aims for a single purpose—whether in support or not— of a harmonic and sound school environment for every individual. Thus, both sides shall be heard for a better understanding of the issue.
There will always be doubts because there is no perfect implementation of policies; it only means that there is continuous improvement to satisfy the context of the environment and of everyone. Hence, being a gender-inclusive school is a process and a road map to our journey to equality and societal soundness.
- Clarke, S. (2006). The Self-Development Argument for Individual Freedom. An Internet Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 10. http://www.minerva.mic.ul.ie/vol10/SelfDevelopment.html
- Goehring, C. & Whittington, H. (2017). Gender Diversity and Inclusivity in the Classroom. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319358635
- Pells, R. (2017, June 23). Transgender policies in school ‘a waste of time and money’, claims leading academic. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/transgender-policies-school-gender-identity-neutral-toilets-waste-of-time-money-dr-joanna-williams-a7805511.html
- Udvari-Solner, A. 1996. Theoretical influences on the establishment of inclusive practices. Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 26, No. 10. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0305764960260108
- UNESCO. (2017). Resources, both human and financial, are distributed in ways that benefit potentially vulnerable learners. A guide for ensuring inclusion and equity in education, p. 30. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002482/248254e.pdf
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 JC Guiao