Every month should be Women’s History Month

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Women have continuously fought for their fair and equal representation in the workplace, government, and history. In 1987, Congress declared March to be National Women’s History Month. Yet, this celebration of women’s strength and historical contributions should not be limited to the month of March. To reach a sustained appreciation of the importance of women in history and society, schools must choose textbooks that educate students on women’s issues.

Women protest for their right to vote in front of the White House in Washington DC, 1916–1918
Courtesy of womenshistorymonth.gov

Ensuring the fair and equal representation of women’s contributions to history begins in the classroom. Often, students are provided with textbooks that are male-centered and that inadequately portray the achievements and contributions of women. If textbooks equitably reflected the importance of equality, valued female strength, and highlighted their historical impact, students would learn history from a perspective that promotes the respect for women. Furthermore, students may become more inclined to treat women equally and fairly after understanding the roles they have played in history.

In contrast, critics argue that educators and textbooks cannot change history. While this is true, the way students view history can change.  

Mr. Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment in England, generates awareness regarding the value of textbooks through his policy paper entitled Why Textbooks Count.

Within the paper, Mr. Oates demonstrates that the countries that include textbooks in their educational curriculums tend to perform better than those that do not. For example, in England only ten percent of teachers use textbooks. However, in Singapore and Finland, countries that continuously outperform England academically, 70 and 95 percent of teachers use textbooks, respectively, according to cambridgeassessment.org.uk.
This research demonstrates the important role that textbooks play in educating a successful student and the impact they can have on student performance. Therefore, all school systems must invest in textbooks that represent both men and women equally.

Women Marching in Suffragette Parade in Washington, DC.
Courtesy of womenshistorymonth.gov.

Historical figures influence students who learn about them through textbooks, but, because of the inadequate exposure to female role models throughout history, girls are unable to learn of the contributions women have made. For example, today, while learning about the Civil War, students hear of battles, bloodshed, and male generals. In this recount of history, powerful female figures are often forgotten and left unmentioned. Likewise, according to civilwar.orgfounder of The Red Cross and emergency response nurse Clara Barton, who was active during the Civil War, risked her life to save hundreds of soldiers, yet her name and story are not prominent in many textbooks. By omitting the role of females in historical events, young girls do not have exposure to women role models that could potentially inspire them to positively impact society.

It is proven that role models are essential to the success of girls. For example, women account for 19 percent of all seats in Congress. This underrepresentation in leadership positions such as Congress affects the career ambitions of young girls, leading to fewer girls in governmental offices, according to dayofthegirl.org.

In order to ensure the success of young girls as well as promote gender equality, everyone should continually recognize the paramount role women play, beyond the limits of Women’s History Month. Changing textbooks will not alter history, but with textbooks that equitably relate the contribution of men and women throughout history, students and future citizens will grow up knowing that men and women should always be equal.