Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where discrimination does not exist?

During the closing remarks of a panel I attended, the speaker made the comment "I am fortunate to be from a country with an excellent public education system, which all students have access to, and where there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or class." She was talking about a wealthy Western country that surely does have a system of public education that is open to all children in that country and that, in theory, does not discriminate. Yet I find her statement to be highly problematic.

During the entire panel, which was focused on violence in schools, the underlying theme seemed to be that violence in schools, or barriers to girls' education, exist only in developing countries. One speaker's presentation consisted entirely of a laundry list of times teachers had used corporal punsihment or girls had experienced harassment at school in her home country of Uganda. I grew up in the US, went to public and private schools here, and could offer similar stories. I worked in the French public education system and witnessed incidents not very different from those she described. Of course, I am not denying that in certain places girls face extreme challenges in education and in life. But painting discrimination, harassment, and violence, whether based on gender or otherwise, as a problem unique to the Global South is too convenient and, ultimately, dangerous: it allows us to feel good about helping those poor ignorant "underdeveloped" places, while neglecting to critically examine our own societies.


  1. It also further disenfranchises victims of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or class in wealthy Western countries, by literally denying the existence of their status as victims.