October 11, International Day of the Girl Child, was established by the UN General Assembly in response to the need for greater opportunities for girls, especially in education and health, and for greater protection from domestic violence, forced child marriage, and discrimination. In the United States, we often assume that we’ve already solved the problem of gender inequality in education. Girls have lower high-school dropout rates than boys, and more girls are attending college. Special programs channel girls into subjects where they were traditionally underrepresented, and summer immersion programs provide intensive training and introductions to potential mentors. School counselors are more sensitive to gender equality in scheduling students. In Five Ways to Get Girls into STEM, Karen Purcell points out that the Girl Scouts are also striving to build interest in STEM subjects.
Gender Inequality in Education
Nevertheless, just as greater social awareness and the ’60s civil rights legislation did not end racism, so Title IX programs did not end gender inequality. Poverty, stereotyping, harassment, and even violence can still limit girls’ access to education. A former student, currently pursuing a PhD, wrote me this about her first year as a college undergraduate in engineering:
The outright sexism I faced as a woman was shocking . . . It was blatant enough that I vividly remember being called the “token pretty girl” in my class by a differential equations professor. He nicknamed me Katie Couric for the rest of the semester, and I didn’t have the guts to stand up to him.