Table of Content

  1. Unit 1 Human Rights

Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 3 Gender Issues

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Ask yourself:

  • Why is it important that all girls regardless of race, religion, culture, class, sexual orientation, or ability receive an education? What impact does education have on their lives?
  • How is gender equality a development issue that can benefit a family, community and nation?
  • What is the gender gap and how are girls and women around the world affected by gender inequality? 
  • How does gender identity affect LGBQT people and what difficulties do they face?

 The harsh reality    

Gender inequality and discrimination are human rights issues that affect many girls and women around the world, just because of their gender. The facts are staggering! According to Plan Canada Because I Am A Girl:

  • One billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty, of which 70% are girls and women.
  • Malnutrition is a problem that affects girls three times more than boys.
  • Education is a human right, but 65 million girls have not been to primary or secondary school.
  • Domestic responsibilities, marriage, pregnancy, accessibility to school, and poverty are just some of the reasons girls do not attend school.

Critical to the development of gender equality is education. When girls go to school and stay in school, the world around them is affected in positive ways. Research shows that when girls are educated, they gain independence, have greater access to job opportunities, invest their acquired income back into their families and community, and in turn are able to stop the cycle of poverty in their lives. By supporting the advancement of girls and women through education, the health and well being of the human population improves and communities thrive. 

Kenyan Maasai woman who graduated from a Canadian University


Gender Equality: refers to the equal treatment of women and men socially, politically and economically so that they have equal access to education, work opportunities and equal pay, the right to vote, access to medical services, and many other human rights.

Gender Discrimination: negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviour towards a person because of their gender or perceived gender, based on social, cultural, and political norms and practices.

Gender-Based Violence: is a form of discrimination that is inflicted upon a person based on gender or perceived gender, which reinforces gender inequality in many forms, such as sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, human trafficking, and forced abortion.

Women’s Rights: similar to gender equality, women’s rights promotes the social and legal equality of girls and women with men.

Jean Augustine, Canada's first black female Member of Parliament
Three women, ambassadors for “Because I Am A Girl”, stand in front of their poster demonstrating gender-based inequalities. enlarge image
Because I Am A Girl

Heather Davis and JoAnne Wallace with Jenn Heil “Because I Am A Girl” Ambassador


Action 1


Investigating the Gender Divide

Grow to understand the scope of gender issues on a global scale and how girls in particular are impacted. The many problems that affect girls on a daily basis may prevent them from going to school and receiving an education.

A. How aware are you of the problems that girls face?

Use the Girls' Rights Factsheet. Sit with a partner to talk about the quiz.

Consider the following questions during your discussion:

  • What were you most surprised about?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • How does this compare to your experience as a student and citizen of Canada?

B. Become an expert in your area of research

  • The class divides into groups of six.
  • In the group each participant decides to be a specialist on one topic from the list below.
  • Join your specialist groups i.e. the ones that have chosen the same topic.
  • Utilize various resources to research your topic: Internet, books, newspaper articles, magazines, videos, etc.
  • Once research is completed and documented, rejoin your original group to share your findings.
  • The goal of this activity is to learn a significant amount of material through collaboration.

C. Become an expert in your area of research

  • Gender discrimination (social and cultural beliefs, economic reasons)
  • Child Marriage (childbirth, household duties, death)
  • Poverty (malnutrition, contaminated water, money for clothing/school supplies)
  • Gender-Based Violence (sexual harassment, rape, human trafficking)
  • Accessibility (lack of government schools, no toilet facilities at school, tuition fees)
  • Child and domestic labour (care for siblings, earn money for family)


D. Become an expert in your area of research

  • Is there anything else that impacts a girl getting a good education that was not covered in the groups? For example: war, conflict, racism, homophobia, etc.
  • This is not just a problem for girls in developing countries. How are girls/women in Canada impacted by the gender divide? Consider the six categories to help you.
  • Can you recognize ways that girls may have a greater disadvantage when compared to boys?
  • How are boys also impacted by some of these issues?

Resources* - See end of program for additional eye-opening resources.

Two young, Southeast Asian girls smile at the camera, while playing with paper fortune-tellers. enlarge image

Source: Because I Am A Girl


Action 2


Malala Yousafzai: Education and Women’s Rights Activist
Malala Yousafzai, a serious-looking, young Muslim girl in a headscarf, stands surrounded by adults. enlarge image
Malala Yousafzai: Education and Women’s Rights Activist

Source: Photo:

At age 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the 2014 Prize with Kailash Satyarti for "their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and the right of all children to education." The Nobel Committee recognized simultaneously a Pakistani and an Indian, a Muslim and a Hindu, a woman and a man, an adolescent and a 60-year-old - a symbolic message of equality for all!

Malala Yousafzai has become an international leader for education and women’s rights, after surviving an attempt on her life by the Taliban in Pakistan. Use Malala’s story and passion for education as a foundation for your own exploration into the importance of education.

A. Who is Malala Yousafzai and why is she such an important figure in the 21st Century?

  • Why did the Taliban attempt to kill Malala?
  • How did they know about her?
  • Why is Malala’s story so important?

B. Watch Malala's September 2015 address to the United Nations

  • What vision does Malala see for the future of education?
  • What are her greatest hopes?
  • What is her call to world leaders and governments?
  • What does she hope will happen in developing nations and communities?

C. Watch Malala on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, October 8, 2013

D. Do you value your education and would you risk your life for it? What are you gaining the most from your education right now? How would you be impacted if you were forbidden from learning?

  • With a partner, create a media representation of what education means to you and why it is important. Write a letter or poem, create a spoken word performance, or produce a video, poster or work of art, or any other means for expressing your thoughts on education.
  • Each partner group will present their media representation to the class.
  • After each presentation, reflect on what your peers have shared. Allow time for questions and constructive comments. 
  • As a class decide how best to share your thoughts with others, such as displaying them on the class or school website.
  • Create a blog on education as it pertains to your community. What are the essential needs of students (both girls and boys)?
  • Share opinions, ways to create change, etc. Invite other students to respond to the blog.

Action 3


Education Matters!
"The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family."
~ Dr. J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey, a visionary Ghanian educator (1875–1927)

Read the above quote by Dr. J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey, and take a few minutes to consider and answer the following questions:

  • Why does a community suffer if only boys/men are educated?
  • How does educating a woman impact a family and her community?
  • How is gender equality a developmental issue?
  • What do the authors mean by economic development?
  • How does an education result in the reduction of poverty?
  • What does girls’ education have to do with social and health benefits?
  • What are some of the ways that gender equality can be attained

With a partner discuss the above quote and questions and then discuss as a class.


  • What obstacles did Teriano Lesancha have to overcome to go to school?
  • How did she manage to conquer her adversity?
  • In what ways has her community been impacted by her education?
  • How has Teriano been able to bring economic growth and development to her community?

A. There are many important organizations, such as the SupaMaasai Foundation, that are making enormous strides to improve communities around the world. The purpose of this next activity is to work in partners or small groups to research an organization of your choice. You can choose from the list below or make a different selection.

  • Look through the organization’s website to discover the type of work they do, where they do the work, and how.
  • What are the mission and/or vision of the organization?
  • How is this organization making a difference in the lives of girls and women? For example: do they support education, economic development, health care, safety, etc.?
  • Who runs the organization? An individual or Board of Directors? Who are they?
  • Does the organization run campaigns? If so, what are they?
  • In what ways can people get involved in the organization? How?
  • How is the money generated and used by the organization to do the work they claim to be doing? Is it cost effective?
  • Extend your research beyond the website to discover more about the organization. What do you find? Is some of the information negative? Why?

    Possible organizations to investigate:
    KIVA: supporting job creation around the world with a $25 loan
    CARE: addresses root causes of poverty to support people and communities
    FREE THE CHILDREN: empowering youth in Canada and internationally to create change
    BECAUSE I AM A GIRL: initiative to advocate for girls’ rights and gender equality
    KASHF FOUNDATION: microfinance program to support the financial growth of women in Pakistan
    THE HUNGER PROJECT: committed to ending hunger worldwide
    THE MALALA FUND: to support girls going to school
    GLOBAL GRASSROOTS: creating change in the lives of girls and women in Africa
    SHARED HOPE INTERNATIONAL: eradicating the human trafficking industry
    RIGHT TO EDUCATION PROJECT: supporting children’s education through a human rights approach
    GLOBAL GIVING: a solution based organization that raises money for a variety of causes

B. Once you and your partner or small group completes your research, transcribe the information in the form of a mind map. Think of the mind map like a visual story. How can your map be read so that others can gain information about your organization? Use chart paper or mural paper. This activity will conclude with a gallery walk to view the mind maps hung on the classroom walls.


C. Reflect on what you have learned and how you plan on continuing to contribute to girls’ education and human rights issues in the future.

Gender Identity


Transgender: a broad term used to describe the experience of individuals who have an internal gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth and based on their genitals. Gender identity is an individuals’ internal sense of maleness, femaleness, both or neither. Transgender is not dependent on sexual orientation.

Dispelling the myths around Transgender

Adapted from: following the CBS interview with Bruce Jenner, former star U.S. Olympian athlete, where he discusses being transgender.

1. Is Being a Transgender Person Considered a Disorder?

Dr. Johanna Olson, the medical director of the transgender clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles says, “Being transgender is not a mental illness”. She uses the term gender dysphoria to properly explain being transgender. “Gender Dysphoria” is the term medical experts use to describe the distress a person may feel when their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. There are various treatment options available to manage this discontent including mental health services, hormonal treatments, and— in some cases— surgery. The causes of transgender identification are still unknown and being explored. More recent studies indicate that the neural wiring of a transgender person’s brain looks more like their gender of identify than the gender of assignment at birth.

2. Are There Transgender Children?

Yes. Children can be transgender, but not all children who experiment with gender play or exhibit gender nonconforming behavior will be transgender adults. Experts say only a small fraction of young children who exhibit gender nonconforming behavior will go on to be transgender later in life. In other words, most of these children will go on to report that their sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity.

Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen B. Levine of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine (Cleveland, Ohio), who has treated hundreds of transgender people, says, "What we need to understand is that in development, all of us get dramatically transformed over time by forces we don't fully understand.”

3. What Treatment Is Given to Children?

“Most people know their gender in early childhood,” says Dr. Olson. “Many times they will assert their gender by saying, “I am a boy” or “I am a girl.” They will also often experience distress about the dissonance between their assigned sex at birth and their experienced gender. As they get older and start to get more cultural messages that their behavior is not normal or acceptable, this may increase the level of stress that they feel.”

For an adolescent experiencing intense gender dysphoria, the first medical option is to take puberty blockers, which prevent physical changes such as breast development and facial hair—buying a child time before a surge of unwanted hormones. It’s important to know that puberty blockers are completely reversible, but are not without some risks including effects on bone development and height. Children cannot be on these blockers indefinitely and need to go through puberty in order to match their internal gender. The second step for a medical transition is cross-sex hormones that cause irreversible effects, such as breast growth from estrogen and facial hair growth brought on by testosterone.

A small 2014 Dutch study of transgender adolescents who were started on puberty blockers as children, demonstrates that those who undergo this treatment (followed later by cross-sex hormones and/or surgery) turn out just as happy as their peers, avoiding the depression that all too often plagues transgender youth.

4. Do All Transgender People Have Surgery?

No. Not all transgender people have surgery—or any medical intervention. Being transgender is not about physical changes—it is about gender identity. For a transgender person, their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.

As Dr. Spack says, “For transgender people, their bodies below the brain do not define their gender status.” There are various reasons some transgender people do not have surgery. For many, the cost is prohibitive. For others, having surgery is not the most important way for them to express their gender. As Dr. Olson says, “There are some people that are completely fine—by the way—with the genitals they have.”

For those who do have surgery, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recommends coming to the decision with the guidance of mental health professionals who specialize in transgender medicine. They also recommend living in the gender role a person identifies with, for at least 12 continuous months. As Dr. Levine says, “This is not a cavalier thing.”

5. How Many Transgender People Are Lost to Suicide and Murder?

Following the death of Leelah Alcorn in late December 2014, (the transgender 17-year-old woman whose suicide note ended in the plea, “Fix society. Please”) there have been an additional eight transgender youth who died by suicide in 2015. Nick Adams, who works for GLAAD and is a transgender man, says that all of us should be concerned about these tragic numbers. Adams says he believes the number of transgender people who commit suicide isn’t “because transgender people are more mentally unstable than non-transgender people—it's because we live in a society that gives us very little hope that we can be accepted and understood as our true selves. The culture needs to change so that transgender people can see a future for themselves and survive." As for homicides, “In 2015,” Adams adds, “seven transgender women have been murdered in the United States.”

Dr. Olson says that some of these tragic findings apply even to her youngest patients, “There's a lot of self-harm, there's a lot of cutting, there's a lot of burning, there's a lot of suicidal thoughts,” Olson tells ABC News, “There's a lot of suicide attempts even in very young kids. And so it's a scary time. And it's a really important time to be listening if something's happening like that for a kid.”


Action 4


Watch the following videos

  1. Living a Transgender Childhood:

  2. 20/20 – A Story of Transgender Children:

  3. Norman Spack: How I help transgender teens become who they want to be:

  4. Trans Day of Remembrance: