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Co-education and the erosion of gender stereotypes in the Zambian Copperbelt

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This paper explores how single-sex and co-education affect girls' and boys' gender beliefs and relations. Earlier research in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that co-educational schools are sites of male intimidation, violence, and unequal power relations. Meanwhile single-sex education is said to enhance girls' self-confidence, improve their academic scores, and enable them to act as leaders, in a safe space, absent of boys. However, recent qualitative research in the Zambian Copperbelt suggests that co-education may actually be more conducive to gender equality. Seeing girls demonstrate equal competence in mixed-sex classes can undermine gender stereotypes, on the part of girls and boys alike. The research also calls into question assumptions that single-sex education is necessarily better at enhancing girls' self-confidence and protecting them from intimidation and male violence.
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Co-education and the erosion of gender
stereotypes in the Zambian Copperbelt
Alice Evans
Published online: 19 Mar 2014.
To cite this article: Alice Evans (2014) Co-education and the erosion of gender stereotypes in the Zambian
Copperbelt, Gender & Development, 22:1, 75-90, DOI: 10.1080/13552074.2014.889346
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552074.2014.889346
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Co-education and the erosion of gender
stereotypes in the Zambian Copperbelt
Alice Evans
This paper explores how single-sex and co-education affect girlsand boysgender
beliefs and relations. Earlier research in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that co-
educational schools are sites of male intimidation, violence, and unequal power
relations. Meanwhile single-sex education is said to enhance girlsself-confidence,
improve their academic scores, and enable them to act as leaders, in a safe space, absent
of boys. However, recent qualitative research in the Zambian Copperbelt suggests that
co-education may actually be more conducive to gender equality. Seeing girls
demonstrate equal competence in mixed-sex classes can undermine gender stereotypes,
on the part of girls and boys alike. The research also calls into question assumptions
that single-sex education is necessarily better at enhancing girlsself-confidence and
protecting them from intimidation and male violence.
Cet article examine comment léducation unisexe et mixte influence les convictions
et les relations de genre entre les filles et les garçons. Des recherches menées
précédemment en Afrique subsaharienne suggèrent que les écoles mixtes sont des sites
dintimidation par les garçons, de violence et de rapports de pouvoir inégaux. En
revanche, léducation unisexe améliorerait apparemment la confiance en soi des filles,
ainsi que leurs notes, et leur permettrait de jouer le rôle de leaders, dans un espace sûr
sans garçons. Cependant, des recherches qualitatives récentes menées dans la ceinture
de cuivre zambienne suggèrent que léducation mixte pourrait en fait favoriser légalité
entre les sexes. Le fait de voir des filles faire preuve de compétences égales dans des
classes mixtes peut affaiblir les stéréotypes relatifs au genre, de la part des filles comme
des garçons. Les recherches mettent aussi en question les suppositions selon lesquelles
léducation unisexe est forcément meilleure au moment daméliorer la confiance en soi
des filles et de les protéger de lintimidation et de la violence masculines.
El presente artículo examina cómo la educación, ya sea separada por sexo o mixta, afecta
las creencias respecto al género y a las relaciones entre géneros entre niñas y niños. Las
investigaciones realizadas anteriormente en el África subsahariana habían concluido
que las escuelas mixtas son lugares donde los niños ejercen la intimidación, la violencia
y las relaciones de poder desiguales. De la misma manera, afirmaban que la educación
separada por sexo mejoraba la autoestima de las niñas, elevaba sus calificaciones y
permitía que asumieran el rol de líderes; todo ello, en un espacio seguro, sin la presencia
de niños. Sin embargo, las recientes investigaciones cualitativas realizadas en el
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cinturón de cobre de Zambia sostienen que, en realidad, la educación mixta podría
propiciar en mayor medida la promoción de la igualdad de género. Los estereotipos de
género pueden ser revertidos cuando niños y niñas observan que las niñas muestran las
mismas habilidades en el aula de educación mixta. Asimismo, estas investigaciones
cuestionan las suposiciones vertidas en el sentido de que la educación segregada por
sexo permite que las niñas tengan más autoestima y estén más protegidas ante la
intimidación y la violencia de los niños.
Key words:co-education; single-sex education; gender stereotypes; gender equality; Zambia
Introduction
What form of schooling is most conducive to gender equality? What kind of educational
experiences lead girls and boys to regard each others as equals, in terms of both
competence and status? This article examines how co-education affects gender
stereotypes, as well as the longer-term significance of this formative experience. Over
the course of a year, I sought to understand how men and women in the Zambian
Copperbelt come to support gender equality. Through research into life histories,
participants reflected on how different experiences had influenced their gender
stereotypes, roles, and relations.
Across the socio-economic and generational spectrum, a number of participants
voluntarily identified co-education as a major influence when narrating their life histories,
without my prior mention of this topic. Some (but not all) maintained that through
learning together they came to disavow gender stereotypes. Although many girls grow
up familiar with boys as brothers, this was rarely said to provide sufficient opportunity to
see boysand girlssimilarities, since they are generally assigned gender-specific domestic
roles to perform. But in co-education, girls demonstrate equal competence in the socially
valued domain of education. This challenges assumptions about male superiority. While
many in my research referred to the importance of exposure to women demonstrating
their equal competence in employment and politics (Evans 2012), co-education was
stressed as uniquely valuable, insofar as it enables people to become accustomed to the
opposite sex and realise their similarities during their formative years.
This article starts by briefly outlining earlier research on how single-sex education
and co-education affect gender beliefs and relations. It then goes on to discuss some of
my research findings.
Single-sex and co-education systemsimpact on gender equality
Research in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa has suggested that single-sex education
offers distinct benefits to female students. In Nigeria, single-sex educated girls have less
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stereotypical views of womens mathematical performance and in Malawi they have
higher educational aspirations (Lee and Lockheed 1990; Mbilizi 2010). Research on two
elite boarding schools in Uganda (one co-educational, one single-sex) similarly finds
that girls in the latter exhibit higher levels of Mathematics self-efficacy and performance
(Picho and Stephens 2012). However, as the authors recognise, the apparent differences
between the two schools may stem from other characteristics of the schools (differing
ideologies and pedagogies, as well as more female teachers) and studentshomes (more
middle class).
In research in Zambia, Monisha Bajaj (2009) has narrated how Umutende school
(a low-cost private school in the Copperbelt) takes in both male and female students
but educates them both completely separately, in single-sex environments. It con-
sciously promotes gender equality. Male and female students are segregated in
different campuses so as to provide a space for young women to develop confidence,
speak up and take leadership rolesas put by one of the schools founders (Bajaj 2009,
490). Each campus is staffed by teachers of the same sex in order to provide role models
and reduce the risk of teacherstudent sexual relationships. Morning assemblies at each
campus promote social justice, including womens rights and gender equality. Girls
lead songs, drum, make announcements, and participate in role-plays. Male students
are mandated to clean their own classrooms. Despite initial resistance to performing
womens work, new students are said to adjust quickly. Many also start doing so at
home. When surveyed, Umutende students were more likely than those at a nearby
government school to label wife-beating, rape, and early/forced marriage as human
rights violations.
But the causal dynamics in such cases are unclear, as Monisha Bajaj registers. To
what extent is the sex segregation of students pivotal, or are more complicated
dynamics at work, which are not specifically concerned with the single-sex educational
setting the school offers? Was it the institutional commitment to equality, role models,
gender sensitisation, or challenging rigid gender roles that were important, rather? The
effects on students of single-sex education when they leave school are equally hazy.
What happens when students graduate from Umutende seemingly an idyllic
sanctuary and join the real world? Neither students nor graduatesreflections are
included in the study.
In contrast to the positive portrayals of single-sex schools (as safe spaces for girls
personal development, free from male intimidation), co-educational schools are often
regarded as sites of unequal power relations. Ethnographic research undertaken by
Máiréad Dunne (2007) in Botswana and Ghana provides multiple examples of gender
inequality in co-educational schools. In both contexts, boys generally assumed
positions of authority, dominated physical spaces, and intimidated girls in class
discussions. Boys also avoided the routine cleaning of the school premises, seeing
this as a task for female students.
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Yet even if the available evidence indicates that girls are more likely to act as leaders
when in single-sex schools, this does not tell us which type of schooling is more
conducive to gender equality in society more broadly. Single-sex educated men and
women may behave in ways which reflect norms of gender inequality when out of
school. Furthermore, even if co-educated pupils do conform to some gender stereo-
types while in school, it remains possible that their co-educational experiences lead
them to privately reject the notion that boys are more competent than girls, and to
embrace more gender-equitable attitudes and beliefs. Drawing on students and older
peoples reflections about their experiences of schooling, this article examines how
school sex composition affects peoples perceptions of men and women, as well as their
support for female education, employment, and leadership.
My research: context and location
My research was based in Kitwe, the largest city in Zambias Copperbelt, between
March 2010 and April 2011. I set out to understand why some men and women in
Kitwe have come to reject gender stereotypes and support flexibility in gender
divisions of labour. The importance of school sex composition emerged from the
research process; it was volunteered by participants.
Located in Zambias Copperbelt Province, Kitwe is an urban district with a
population of 506,045 (Central Statistical Office 2012, 2). The provinces name is
derived from its chief export and industry, which has historically been mined and
managed by men. From the 1930s to 1960s, mining companies trained women in
domestic skills, so they could maintain and care for the male workforce. This message
that women should be good housewiveswas further reinforced by government social
welfare, churches, and the media (Ferguson 1999; Parpart 1988). Mens monopoly of
socially valued activities (such as household financial provision) led many to regard
them as typically more competent and more suited to positions of authority (Epstein
1981; Geisler 2004; Powdermaker 1962). Gender stereotypes of male breadwinners and
female housewives persisted in the early decades of Independence (achieved in 1964).
The buoyant economic climate largely secured mens access to employment and curbed
popular support for female labour force participation (Evans forthcoming).
Over the past 25 years, many residents of Kitwe have endured worsening economic
insecurity. Economic restructuring (trade liberalisation, privatisation, and state cut-
backs) precipitated the collapse of infant industries, the loss of formal employment,
increasingly precarious employment, HIV-related deaths of male breadwinners, and
rising living costs (Fraser and Larmer 2010). No longer able to rely on male
breadwinners, women have increasingly joined the labour market. While the vast
majority of female labour entrants have turned to traditionally femininejobs (such as
trading foodstuffs, textiles, and household goods, and teaching), growing numbers
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have sought stereotypically masculinejobs (such as mining or mechanics), since these
are generally better paid.
Research methods
In the course of my research, I interviewed over 200 Zambian men and women in
Kitwe, from a wide variety of different generations, income brackets, educational
attainment, and occupations ranging from home-makers and market traders to
mechanics, and on to magistrates and Members of Parliament (MPs). Through
narrating their life histories, respondents identified salient influences on their lives
(particularly their gender roles and relations), as well as their own perceptions of men
and women. Contributors also collectively reflected upon their beliefs and experiences,
through discussions with classmates and other established groups (for example, kin,
neighbours, and co-workers). Being knowledgeable about each other s lives, partici-
pants could ask each other questions about issues of which I was not aware. Because
they were also at ease with each other, my role was generally limited to initiating the
discussion and then remaining silent, intervening only occasionally to seek clarification.
I tested these narratives against my own observations of domestic life in Kitwe
(in low- and middle-income households, where I lived), as well as observations of
classes in three different schools in the city: School A, a co-educational government
school; School B, a government boysschool; and School C, an elite, co-educational
private school.
I spent a total of three months in these schools, focusing on one or two particular
classes in each. Most pupils were aged between 15 and 17. Since teachers were often
absent, I was encouraged to take on aspects of a teaching role including setting essays.
These were reviewed with each individual student, to discuss spelling and grammar, as
well as the ideas presented. These papers provided tremendous insights into students
future aspirations, and shed light on their views about school sex composition, role
models, and gender differences.
The remainder of this article explores some of my findings on how school sex
composition affects gender beliefs and relations, as seen by current students of the three
schools as well as older participants from a range of schools. All quotations come from
my research.
Fear and familiarity: attitudes to the opposite sex
Many girls in Kitwe have little opportunity to socialise in their home communities and
interact with unrelated boys after school. One main reason for this is lack of leisure
time due to domestic burdens of housework and child care (Nkonkomalimba and
Duffy 2010, 32). If girls attend single-sex schools, they spend even less time with the
opposite sex. Single-sex educated girls participating in my research tended to express
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particular shyness about interacting with boys, since they were not accustomed to this.
Older single-sex educated women also often recalled difficulties in adapting to working
with men in higher education and employment. They stated that they felt embarrassed,
timid, or easily intimidated.
By contrast, participants in my study who had moved to co-education from single-
sex schools during their formative years explained that they soon became comfortable
with unrelated boys. Although the transition often led to temporary difficulties such
as feeling discomfort when seated next to boys or being obsessed with the mirror
(to quote 15-year-old Musonda from School C) the vast majority of participants
(incuding Musonda) maintained that through learning and sharing together in co-
education, they became accustomed to interacting with the opposite sex. The following
accounts from women educated at both types of school echo narratives from across the
socio-economic and generational spectrum.
Ruth, aged 19, is a trainee teacher, who appeared to me to be visibly relaxed and
jovial with male colleagues. She was first educated at a single-sex school before moving
to co-education at the age of 14. Her words suggest the advantage of working
alongside boys in a classroom, enabling her to see them as people and colleagues,
rather than those who just make unwanted sexual advances:
The time I was at Bettys[a single-sex school] I used to be scared of guys, I never used to have
friends who were guys I used to have that phobia of guys. When I used to see a boy I used to
think hed want something from me but when we used to mingle [in co-education] I used to see
them as brothers It seems these boys are here to help me not for other things.
Sophia was regional director of a womens rights organisation, and had been educated
in co-educational government schools. She spoke of the advantages of having to learn
early to fight ones corner in a co-educational school the flip-sideof the point which
is often made about single-sex education building girlsconfidence:
When youre in a girlssetup I think you dont really get to know the other side Single-sex
school may give girls that confidence but what happens when she goes out into the world?
Co-education is the answer; it makes you to be a fighter I was in debate club with boys; we
could win It helped me move a step further There are so many at a big school but you
compete; leadership starts from when you are young.
The following dialogue between me and Belinda, an older Copperbelt MP, explored the ways
in which she considered her experience of co-education had affected her professionally:
Alice: How did you feel working with men [at the mines, where she was a secretary] having
just come from an all girlsschool?
Belinda: Because of the previous experience at Mukuba [a co-educational school], it
wasnt bad.
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Alice: Do you think that experience at Mukaba made a difference in your life?
Belinda: Yes, a lot of difference, it strengthened us, it gave us an insight into the opposite sex
and how to deal with them.
Alice: You dont think you would have got that experience just from living in Wusakali [in
Kitwe]?
Belinda: No, because when youre growing up, during that time youre told, Girls take this line
and boys take that line, and you knew that when you grew up as a woman you got married and
there were only certain jobs you could do
Alice: How did Mukuba make a difference?
Belinda: Because we were given chores to do in a mixed group, we did projects with boys, there
was no separation, we worked as a group, not looking at who is a boy, who is a girl so that
helped a lot, and we felt free! to sit with a boy and chat to look at each other beyond sex. Co-
education is the best because it opens up your mind, whereas if you go into a girlsschool you
come out with the perception that a boy is something to fear and a boy can only befriend if he
wants to sleep with you But when you are in co-education you can know very well that you
can have a boy as a friend and not have anything to do with sex, hes just a friend and you learn
more from each other, and compete with them. Co-education is the best.
A similar narrative was provided by Lucia (23, a student unionist studying
telecommunications). She came from a poor family and had attended a government
school, receiving financial support from government and her church. She explained:
It [co-education] gives girls exposure to run with guys, it helps them to compete at the level
of guys, it helps them to run in life as fast as guys I think the only way to fight for gender
equality is to have girls and guys mixing at school.
These narratives imply that through their experiences of co-education these women
came to reject stereotypes of men as being more intelligent and higher in status. Co-
educated students (both male and female) often insisted that their relationships with
members of the opposite sex were not focused on romance or sex, only seeing the
opposite sex in the context of intimate relations. However, their positive accounts
may not be representative of co-educational experiences more broadly, but may
instead reflect their particular experiences of unusually supportive home environ-
ments. Sophia, Lucia, and Ruth all had at least one family member who encouraged
them to excel in school. Their ideas about how possible it is for female students in
co-education to withstand male intimidation may have been affected by this. Such
support may have strengthened their commitment and sense of entitlement to
education, thereby hardening their resolve and determination to stand up to
patriarchal bullying.
The next section seeks to ascertain the pervasiveness and significance of male
intimidation in co-educational schools.
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Violence and intimidation in schools
I observed that boys sometimes tried to undermine girls in co-educational classes
(a finding shared by Máiréad Dunne 2007). On one occasion at School C, the private
co-educational school, I saw a girl standing up to give a presentation. Some boys at
the back of the class tried to derail her confidence. They laughed and called out,
Are you nervous?(personal observation, May 2010). She scowled in their direction
and continued. The boys were reprimanded by their teacher, weary of their attempts
to disrupt the class for their own amusement. Discussing this incident after class,
the girls suggested that through dealing with such outbursts they learnt how
to stand their ground against male intimidation. Two girls from this class
further detailed how they had learnt to handle and discourage unwanted sexual
advances:
Musonda (the daughter of an female economist): Isaac is a perve, he does a lot of stupid things
Mubanga (the daughter of a female permanent secretary): Last term I really snapped for him,
Dont be stupid with me, dont think Im one of these girls who just takes this nonsense from
you; I seriously will snap from you. From that day he keeps distance: sometimes he goofs
around and Ill give him a serious look and then hes like OK, OK. I mean, you have to stand
your ground.
Their strong and optimistic narratives may have been exaggerated, or possibly
attributable to the fact that this group of girls were emboldened by getting support
from each other. It is also possible that they were more confident due to the fact
that School C was high-cost, and their parentsfinancial investment in their
schooling may have made them feel entitled to education. In additional interviews,
Musonda and Mubanga emphasised that they were also inspired by their mothers
occupations. That said, similar resistance to sexism on the part of girls was also
demonstrated in School A, a government school in a low-income compound. When
one schoolboy suggested that girls should perform domestic work to show respect
to the (male) household head, he was shouted down by vocal female detractors
(personal observation, April 2010). Some poor, older participants likewise main-
tained that co-education had prepared them for adult life, where men often attempt
to intimidate women.
Of course, even if co-education was identified as beneficial in this respect, perhaps
single-sex schooling would have been even more empowering and advantageous for
women, especially for those without supportive friends and families.
Male intimidation can lower girlsself-esteem; it may also thwart their participation
and performance in school. However, the presence of boys was not obviously a binding
constraint to girlsclass participation. Students at School A were often inaudible due to
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the noise from unsupervised neighbouring classes. Additional obstacles included
teacher absenteeism, large class sizes, and limited resources.
Sexual violence is another concern, threatening student welfare and attainment. In a
recent survey of eight Zambian schools, 16.9 per cent of girls said they felt at risk of
sexual harassment or violence; 23.4 per cent of these girls identified male students as
those they were most afraid of in this respect, while 18.3 per cent said they most feared
harassment or violence from male teachers. The remainder either mentioned other
adults at the school, or did not answer (Topp et al.2011). In Lusaka Province, 48 per
cent of interviewed female students reported that they had personally experienced
sexual violence or harassment from a student; 66 per cent reported knowledge of a
classmates experience of the same (WLSA et al.2012, 18).
These reports could be read as strengthening the case for single-sex education, the
logic being that girls might at least learn in safety, as Robert Morrell (2000) suggests for
South Africa. However, single-sex education would not protect girls from sexual
violence from adults at school in Zambia, male teachers are just as common in single-
sex state schools as in co-educational state schools. Nor would it protect them from
corporal punishment which my participants and Topp et al.(2011) identify as by far
the most common form of violence in schools. Additionally, single-sex education does
not prevent bullying from female peers (as found by Deevia Bhana and Nalini Pillay
2011 in Durban, South Africa).
Furthermore, gender-based violence is not an inevitable feature of co-educational
schools. What seemed most critical in influencing the prevalence of gender-based
violence within school was the response from management. This varied considerably
among schools. Such diversity indicates the possibility of developing safer co-
educational (as well as single-sex) environments.
So single-sex education does not, according to the data available to me, guarantee
girlsprotection from violence from adults, nor from males, nor does it ensure their
class participation and self-confidence. Moreover, without the opportunity to mix with
boys in school, girls may feel anxious and apprehensive about mixed-sex environ-
ments. Additionally, as shown below, co-education may be uniquely valuable, by
enabling exposure to disconfirming evidence of gender stereotypes.
Perceived sex differences in competence
In essays and conversations on gender differences, the vast majority of boys in single-
sex education insisted that women are less intelligent than men. This finding is in line
with research in Nigeria and Malawi (Lee and Lockheed 1990; Mbilizi 2010). Further,
they tended to see malefemale interactions as exclusively sexual as was evident from
their tendency to portray girls as potential sexual partners. Musenge, an unemployed
24-year-old man, said:
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[Nkana] Boys is a boysschool, the way they see girls its different from the way boys from [co-
educational] [Mulenga] High School see girls. They have different perceptions.
Musenge and his brother Luo (17), both educated at a single-sex school (School B),
suggested that their classmates saw girls as meat(interview at their home, where I
was staying as a guest of their mother, a feminist activist).
This narrative was widely corroborated. For example, at School B, Bupe explained
in his essay that, most guys who are at single-sex education get excited when they see
a girl But if they were used to see girls they would control themselves. His friend
Nsenga similarly wrote, When a girl comes they shout, cheer and clap, they get very
excited. But gender equality requires men and women to be friends. Two male
Copperbelt parliamentarians gave similar accounts when interviewed together:
If people dont interact at a tender age, if youre not used to sit with a woman then youll think
something else [which I interpreted to mean sex]. When I was growing up, the only chance
to meet girls was at night.
Co-education is important in helping you see someone as a person.
Fights sometimes break out between nearby boysschools over presumed rights of
sexual access to girls at the adjacent school (according to students at School B and
members of the wider community). When discussing their joint essay (which asserted
that [Nkana] Boys [school] own 75 per cent shares in [Betty] [the neighbouring girls
school]), three single-sex educated boys (at School B) described girls at the neighbour-
ing school as being less intelligent, inclined to talk nonsense, and competitively
absorbed with being more attractive than their peers. Having endorsed these gender
stereotypes, the boys professed that they would never ask their wives for advice. Two
of the three also expressed resistance to the idea of women leaders. Nsenga (18),
however, was somewhat resistant to his peersstereotypes; he questioned these by
reference to his more egalitarian home environment (he labelled his mother, a nurse,
household head). Single-sex educated male students commonly denied that girls
could perform on a par with or better than boys. Although some were aware that
girls had scored the highest national marks for their grades, they dismissed them as
unusual.
Some women identified single-sex educated men as particularly hostile towards
women who excelled in higher education, employment, and politics. Belinda, the
MP, said:
This is why even in institutions some men dont accept when they are given a woman as a
senior member of staff, cause its embedded in them that theyre superior than women, and these
characters are those that have never had that exposure with women in a classroom level, from
Form 1 to secondary school. Even at university, if they are there, they will look upon women as
an object, which is wrong.
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Single-sex education was also said to affect the gender beliefs of female students.
Single-sex educated Bwalya (aged 24) is a female metallurgist, from a home where she
reported egalitarian gender relations. When individually interviewed, she described
her former classmates as often having an inferiority complex, in thinking guys are
more intelligent than them.
BanaBecca, aged 36, from a single-sex school, stated: even though I had intelligence, I was
thinking that men were better than me, not knowing that I myself was better than others.
BanaBecca only disavowed her earlier gender stereotypes when she became a market trader,
shesawabroadrangeofwomenundertakingthesocially valued role of household financial
provider (individual interview). This illustrates that gender beliefs may change over the life
course, as a result of new experiences, and are not determined by school sex composition.
When co-educated people were asked about academic abilities, the vast majority
maintained that gender made little difference to performance. While a minority of co-
educated boys mentioned earlier discomfort about being beaten by girls, since this
unsettled prevailing stereotypes, it appeared (from my interviews and observations of
interactions in co-education) that unease waned over time. This belated acceptance in
co-education of female educational attainment, in contrast to the dismissal of isolated
examples of female achievement from single-sex educated boys, suggests that gender
stereotypes only wane in the face of a critical mass of evidence which challenges them,
such as through prolonged exposure to girlsdisplays of equal competence.
Many male champions of gender equality identified co-education as a major
influence upon their views. Roy, aged 26, studying civil engineering, said:
Women can do what men can do, if it has to do with the use of the intellect just to think and
apply your knowledge I think they can Ive always thought like that cause Ive always
been exposed to women doing things that men can do, intellectually. Ive always been in co-
education, so Ive always assumed that were at school to do the same things.
Hamadudu, aged 29, is a married Art teacher who describes himself as a champion of
gender equality (as was consistent with what I observed while staying with his family):
Alice: How did you learn that women can do what men can do?
Hamadudu: It was through co-educational school I saw that girls can do what boys can do. It
changed me in a way; I started looking at boys and girls as the same. I used to look at them as
people who are unable but after knowing that they can compete with me, we are only different in
sex, I started giving them respect. It changed me in the way I was perceiving them.
Many co-educated girls and women similarly stressed the catalytic effect of exposure to
equal competence. Namatamma, aged 15, and in Grade 9 at the time of my research,
was consistently number one in her class and aspiring to become a medical doctor. She
explained:
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When we were in Grade 6, we were actually separated, there was a girlsclass and a malesclass
so I used to think Wow, maybe the males do better than I did’…When we got to Grade 7
I had to find out that I can even come top of the class then I thought OK, then I can even do
better than males!My attitude just like changed, I was like OK, I can do anything!’…
I realised that, OK if I can beat them in certain subjects then I can also be a leader, then I can do
anything that boys can do!
Namatamma is from a very poor family (she shares a single, crumbling mud cabin with
her mother, a divorced domestic worker, and her cousins), but her emphasis upon
realising equal capabilities through co-education was echoed across the socio-economic
and generational spectrum. For example, Ruth (19, a trainee teacher, from a low-income
settlement) similarly narrated that:
Before I went [to a co-educational school] I thought boys could do better in certain subjects,
that hindered me from studying very hard, until I realised that I can also do better In the
mid-term test I was the highest.
Chezo is 47 and an occupational health professional and trade unionist at national
level she was introduced to me (by a colleague) as an example of an assertive female
leader. She attended a local co-educational state school:
When youve seen that youve beaten them, you like it, theres no difference. The mind is just the
same. (Translated)
Sophie, aged 26, is a laboratory analyst at a mine, and had attended a co-educational
school. She said:
From beating boys at school I realised I could also do mens work.
Of course, in some cases, girls struggle to perform as well as boys in co-educational
settings, and so do not provide disconfirming evidence of gender stereotypes.
Informants often attributed this to their heavy burden of domestic chores. While girls
were stuck working at home, boys would search and explore, learning from our
friends(to quote one male market trader), thereby improving academically.
Girlseducation may also be constrained by sexual harassment and violence,
leading to absenteeism as found by research in Lusaka Province (WLSA et al.2012).
Furthermore, teachers with stereotypical beliefs may explicitly tell girls that they are
less competent in Mathematics and Science (as also found by WLSA et al.2012). These
obstacles may affect girlsself-perceptions and inhibit their academic performance,
thereby confirming othersgender stereotypes about girlslesser competence.
Academic performance also appears influenced by expectations of future liveli-
hoods, which are in turn shaped by socio-economic context. Some (though certainly not
Alice Evans
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all) middle-aged women narrated that in earlier decades, predating the contemporary
rise in female labour force participation, they did not envisage being employed and so
were less interested in education. Many market traders, for instance, recalled and
regretted formerly being too playful. However, in the context of greater economic
insecurity they are now much more supportive of their daughterseducation and
labour force aspirations. Co-education does not then invariably produce the same
experiences and gender beliefs irrespective of the broader socio-economic context, but
interacts with students, teachers, and parentsexpectations.
School management also seemed significant in shaping co-educational experience.
For example, I encountered teachers from both co-educational and single-sex schools
discouraging girls from pursuing atypical subjects, for example woodwork (in line with
Mapala Nkonkomalimba and Valerie Duffy 2010;WLSAet al.2012). Much depends on
the teachersgender beliefs, which may be more or less sexist in either type of
schooling. In Kitwe, the allocation of gendered tasks (such as digging pits, sweeping
classrooms, and student leadership) varied with managements ethos rather than school
sex composition. Referring back to Monisha Bajaj (2009), it may be Umutendes staffs
disavowal of gender stereotypes rather than segregated campuses that explains
studentsmore egalitarian beliefs.
Critical reflection upon the significance of girlsdemonstrations of equal competence
may also be impeded by widespread rote learning (see also Longwe 1998, 24). While
gender equality is now an examined component of the Zambian Civicscurriculum,
this generally comprises note-taking rather than participatory discussion. Accordingly,
most participants thought they only needed to repeat the correctinformation in the
exam and then forget the topic.
The limitations of co-education in changing beliefs about gender
equality
This emphasis on co-education is not intended to imply that it is necessary or sufficient
to challenge gender beliefs, roles, and relations. As outlined at the end of the last
section, a wide range of factors impede girlsperformance in school. Further, even if
girls do obtain equal marks they may still be discriminated against. Major obstacles
remain.
Clearly, there are many other areas, besides co-education, in which young people
may become exposed to information that contradicts and thereby weakens their gender
stereotypes. For example, some men and women (like Bwalya, the female metallurgist
quoted above) who attended single-sex education maintained that they grew up in
homes without gender divisions of labour or gender status inequalities, where parents
and other adults promoted gender equality (or at least dimensions thereof). Accord-
ingly, they already eschewed the gender stereotypes that others came to question
through co-education.
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Furthermore, co-education only seemed to undermine assumptions about gender
roles and relations in synergy with other influences. Experiences of schooling are
tempered by domestic upbringing, educational management, and labour market
possibilities. While many interpreted equal performance at school as evidence of equal
competence and status, others still doubted that women could undertake gender
atypical activities, such as repairing a car. This appeared due to their limited exposure
to female role models in stereotypically masculine jobs. For example, although co-
educated Joanna, aged 26, felt that she had performed just as well as the boys at school
and wanted to be an electrician, she doubted this was a real possibility until she had
seen a woman electrician working up a pylon, and was encouraged by her supportive
older brother. At the time of the research, having saved up funds by trading second-
hand clothing at the central market, she had enrolled at a vocational training college.
Some co-educated participants (like their single-sex educated peers) denied that
girls did equally well in school. This contrasts with the finding that Copperbelt boys
and girls obtained the same mean reading scores and fairly similar mean Mathematics
scores, in 2000 and 2007 (SACMEQ 2011). Resistance to the idea of equal attainment
and capability seemed to be more common among those with little exposure to
flexibility in gender divisions of labour, children of homemakers, and/or from rural
areas. Such people often dismissed girlsacademic performance, attributing it to the
easy nature of the subjects in which they succeeded. They also gave more prestige to
stereotypically masculine subjects.
Furthermore, even if an individual personally rejects gender stereotypes (such as
through co-education), they may still comply with widely held gender beliefs in order
to secure social respect (referred to by Deniz Kandiyoti 1989 in her classic work
Bargaining with Patriarchy). For example, some female participants in my research
explained that they shun politics in order to avoid expected insults and hostility, not
because they regarded themselves as less competent.
Conclusion
As discussed above, comparisons of male and female classmatesperformances are not
always perceived as disconfirming evidence of assumptions about gender differences.
Educational experiences as well as interpretations thereof depend on school manage-
ment, opportunities for critical reflection, the proportion of female Mathematics and
Science teachers (to provide role models), labour market expectations, home environ-
ment, and peers (such as collective strength against male intimidation). Moreover, even
if schooling does shape gender beliefs, these may change over the life course, as
different experiences offer alternative ways of living to both women and men,
challenging stereotypical attitudes (as in BanaBeccas case).
Operating in synergy with these other influences, co-education seems capable of
undermining gender stereotypes, by enabling exposure to a critical mass of
Alice Evans
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disconfirming evidence. Witnessing girls demonstrating equal competence in education
(a socially valued domain) seems to foster support for flexibility in the gender division
of labour, and for a view of women as equally valued and valuable human beings,
whose sexual and reproductive potential is just one facet of their being. This is fostering
a positive feedback loop in the Zambian Copperbelt, as women who pursue gender
atypical aspirations subsequently demonstrate their equal competence to perform
historically male-dominated, socially valued roles in employment and politics, which is
in turn providing role models and disconfirming evidence of gender stereotypes.
Alice Evans is a Fellow in Human Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Postal address: LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2 2AE, UK. Email: a.evans@lse.ac.uk
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... In different contexts, single sex schools have been considered a barrier for the development of effective interpersonal skills (Schmuck, 2005), supporting and reinforcing unhealthy stereotypical gendered notions (Fabes et al., 2015;Goodkind et al., 2013;Halpern et al., 2011;Jackson, 2010 as cited in Bennett, 2015). Evans (2014) suggested that co-educational practices give opportunities to combat gender stereotypes. On the contrary, while sharing reflections from her study in India, Manjrekar (2003) noted that practices like mixed-seating in co-educational settings was found to be used as 'a shaming technique' used by teachers to prevent indiscipline in the classroom. ...
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