Education and gender inequalities: A critical analysis of school textbooks in Uzbekistan

Poster for winner of the BAICE Student Writing Award 2024 - Vanessa Ozawa, PhD Scholar Nazarbayev University

The UN points out that the progress on the SDG5 on gender equality has been clearly way off track, indicating the gravity of the problem. This stems from women’s underrepresentation in political and social institutions or prevalence of societal barriers that undermine their rights to development opportunities. A crucial question to ask in the field of gender and education is – why gender disparities have persisted despite the efforts and claimed achievements of the development interventions over the past decades? International organisations that are working towards the SDG5 milestones tend to focus on outcomes in numerical terms, often prioritising the measurement of gender disparities at the empirical levels. However, the visible gender inequalities are deeply rooted in structural conditions and social fabrics of the society. Hence, it is essential to examine the gendered nature of social, economic and political structures to understand the drivers of gender inequalities. Education systems are complicit in social reproduction by fuelling gendered values, expectations and norms.

Gender is an inseparable dimension in the process of national identity formation. The political authority of the nation state defines the nature of gender relationship through social policies and educational provisions. To analyse how gender is represented in the discourse about national identity and how gender is depicted in the school curricula, this blog will focus on school education as a key instrument in inculcating “official knowledge” and shaping students’ worldviews and identities. I explore the role of formal textbooks prescribed in the school curriculum in Uzbekistan in shaping the notion of gender and power relations between women and men. By doing so, I hope to highlight the importance of critiquing structural inequalities and violence and offer insights into gender representation in school textbooks that suggest the kinds of improvement that are needed to promote gender equity.

Girls dancing in a classroom in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Students in class” by Global Partnership for Education – GPE is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Gender, education and production of national identity

School education plays a key role in production of gender norms through curriculum and pedagogy and enforces the ways through which students learn about gender roles, stereotypes, and social expectations. In other words, they are taught how to think and behave “appropriately” as a girl, boy, woman and man, constructing gender and shaping individuals’ understanding of social and cultural norms associated with it. Gender is socially constructed and regulated through repeated performance of gender norms and other intersectional identity markers such as ethnicity, language and religion, among others. Nation as an imagined political community, constituting heterogenous social groups, requires an overarching unifying factor to promote social cohesion. In this process, education serves as a key institutionalising channel to foster shared national consciousness and cohesive national identity. Nevertheless, in the process of unifying diverse social groups, internal heterogeneity and intersectionality are often disregarded since the totalisation process tends to produce “internal hierarchy” based on various identity markers, such as gender, thereby enabling dominant groups to exert power. Constructed though inclusion and exclusion processes, national identity and gender are relational and are in a constant process of production and performance. State institutions, such as schools are heavily involved in generating and sustaining gendered relationships to legitimise national identity and nurture a particular kind of national awareness. Hence, school curricula, textbooks and practices, including rituals, ceremonies and celebrations, and everyday social interactions, contribute to transmit and reinforce not only prevailing gender stereotypes and norms and but also power hierarchies between women and men.

School textbooks, serving as primary source in shaping students’ perspectives about their society, including their understanding of gender, have been the focus of extensive gender research. Despite recognition of efforts towards gender equity, textbooks tend to overwhelmingly present emphasised femininity and hegemonic masculinity discourses that assign distinct roles, responsibilities and values to women and men. Women not only face numerical underrepresentation in educational materials but are also frequently depicted in passive and subordinate roles to men, reinforcing their inferior position in society and hence implicitly reproducing power imbalances.

Depiction of gender norms in school textbooks in Uzbekistan

As part of my doctoral research, investigating the relationship between school education and youth national identities in Uzbekistan, I conducted an analysis of textual and visual contents within the grades 10 and 11 Uzbekistani school textbooks, namely Tarbiya (Upbringing). By employing a post-structuralist discourse analysis lens, I examined the educational discourses relating to processes of national identity formation and explored the underlying structural meanings of curricular contents, capturing both the “explicit” and “latent” features. Despite the explicit commitment to the importance of girls’ education, respect for women and their participation in society, the narratives presented in these textbooks are gendered, often ascribing primacy and superiority to men. Notably, visual representations were predominantly male dominated, with 68% (G10) and 62% (G11) contents featuring men as compared to 32% (G10) and 38% (G11) featuring women. Furthermore, men were largely depicted in power-vested, high-wage and “prestigious” social positions, such as doctor, scientist, and politician. Similarly, the national pride and glory were predominantly associated with men, encompassing historical icons, national heroes, athletes and winners in international intellectual competitions. Despite the nominal promotion of female empowerment, these asymmetrically gendered textual and iconographic discourses inevitably foster biased perceptions of gender, fuelling gender inequalities. Furthermore, whilst both women and men are portrayed with respect, distinct gendered traits are reinforced throughout the textbooks. Womanhood is often linked to qualities of love, gentleness, fragility and modesty, whereas the manhood is often associated with authority, admiration and strength. When women and men are portrayed in family settings, the former are frequently depicted as primarily responsible for house chores, while the latter assigned to protective roles within the family. Women are often discursively represented as a social group that depends on men, particularly in spousal relationships where wives are expected to seek affirmations and approval from their husbands. Interestingly, the figures that are portrayed as immoral, disobedient, ill-mannered and criminal are predominantly associated with men.

The above analysis demonstrates that school education primarily serves as a pivotal force in constructing and normalising discourses that convey social and cultural values, expectations and norms, thereby fucntioning as a powerful state anchored process shaping both gender and national identities. However, these discourses often manifest in asymetric ways, attributing different national imageries, including values, roles, duties and expectations, to women and men as citizens. Such practicies thus not only crystalise power relations and gender inequalities, but also marginalise those who “desobey” or “deviate” from the habituated norms, leaving little space for debates about gender-based injustices and the need for change.


Educational institutions, as microcosms of a broader society, can play a crucial role in reproducing gender inequalities. Should the education systems aim to curb deeply rooted perceptions about unequal gender norms and practices, school textbooks need to be sensitive to gender disparities that are prevalent in the society. Therefore, a critical analysis of educational discourses, particularly how gender is represented and taught through the school textbooks, is needed to deconstruct the structural situatedness of gender. This could help researchers, policy makers and practitioners to reconceptualise the manners in which individuals perceive and perform gender. The transformative potential lies in recognising and rectifying these structural imbalances and hierarchy and fostering educational envrionments that contribute to a more inclusive, just, and cohesive society and positive peace.

Vanessa Ozawa is a doctoral scholar at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan



  • Vanessa Ozawa

    Vanessa Ozawa is a doctoral scholar at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. Her research focuses on the construction of youth national identities through school education in Uzbekistan through the intersectionality of gender, ethnicity and religion. She has worked as a research assistant with the GCRF-funded research network on the political economy of education (The PEER Network). She has an MA in Education and International Development from UCL Institute of Education, UK and an MA from Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France. She also worked as an education consultant for JICA-funded ODA projects on education in low-middle-income contexts, mainly in Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. Email:

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