Textbooks are a powerful means for aiding children in learning about gender and their cultural heritage. The textbook is an indispensable medium of power that works in shaping the ways in which children think about themselves and society. It is argued that text into children’s textbooks determine models of thought and offer the preferred position to boys and girls. Children’s textbooks provide messages about right and wrong, the beautiful and the hideous, what is attainable and what is out of reach and play a central role in the development of gender identity. Davies in his book “Preschool Children and Gender” emphasises the fact that, children learn to constitute themselves as bipolar males or females with the appropriate patterns of power and desire through textbook stories. The aforementioned assertions affirm that textbooks are actually messages to the students about the future. It is this powerful impact of children’s textbooks that makes it extremely important to analyse and discuss the differences and disparity in representation of women and discrimination against them in school textbooks.

A detailed content analysis of Urdu, Social Studies and English textbooks of both primary and secondary level revealed how gender identity has been represented throughout the textbooks in Punjab. Children are exposed to recurrent messages to foster gender identities along with learning about gender expectations. The messages instilled through the stereotypical portrayal and representation of males and females in school textbooks in Punjab influence and impact children’s understanding of what it means to be a girl or a boy, and a woman or a man which hampers their competencies of thinking. Unfortunately, the representation of gender identity in the textbooks of Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) promotes gender stereotyping, and this was validated by the in-depth interviews conducted with students and teachers at different schools of Punjab. The findings of textbooks analysis were reflected in the interviews with students and teachers.

In the textbooks of PCTB, both men and women are confined to perform certain tasks and to work in different spheres of life. The text at numerous places discourages girls to explore and limits them to stereotypical roles. When female characters appear in the textbooks, they are presented as pious, helpless, domesticated, and tolerant figures espousing their husbands. Moreover, the textbooks show female characters in stereotypical gender roles, such as cleaning, cooking, raising children, washing dresses, and taking the whole responsibility for domestic and household chores. Furthermore, the representation of women in professional life is also restricted to a limited number of roles such as nurses, doctors, and school teachers primarily. There is a need to change the representation of women in the textbook. They should be shown in a broad spectrum as engineers, lawyers, pilots or fighters. This would shatter the preconceived idea of gender identity for students and would help them understand the present society more reasonably.

Women have also been underrepresented in leadership positions in the textbooks; even textbooks of history do not include the contribution of popular female personalities towards the making of Pakistan. Textbooks should include examples of women like Fatima Jinnah, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, Begum Fatima, Jahanara Shahnawaz, Shaista Ikramullah, Mumtaz Shahnawaz, Rana Liaqat and Begum Zari Sarfraz etc.

Both English and Urdu textbooks in every grade have a story related to sports, and all the characters playing sports like cricket, football, volleyball, baseball, tennis, and badminton are boys, girls have been shown playing with dolls. Textbooks should be reflective about the status of women, who have excelled in sports. An interesting addition could be the success of our women cricket team.

In textbooks, women do not appear as often as males neither in the text nor in illustrations. Their presence is not shown in titles, central roles, pictures, and stories. Women’s inclusion in text can be made frequent showing they have accomplishments, and are important enough to be included.

Language in the textbooks represents male superiority and undermines the females and submerges their personal identity. Masculine pronouns are used when the sex of the referent is unknown. The wrong perception of gender identity created this way can be countered by creating a new linguistic structure that places both the sexes on equal footing. Some examples of changes that can be introduced in routine language use include substituting humankind for mankind, chairperson for chairman etc.

The presence of gender stereotyping and underrepresentation of women in the textbooks in Punjab will continue to limit girl’s academic achievements and future options. It is important that PCTB considers textbooks revision to eliminate the gender bias in them. Gender sensitive books will encourage students to break toxic stereotypes and gain a more gender equitable worldview, which will resultantly improve gender parity and equality.