This companion document to the Issue in Focus provides educators with guidance on ways to incorporate the content into classroom teaching. This component is geared toward grade 6-12 teachers, with connections across subjects and disciplines.
Contents of this Classroom Companion include:
Student Readings and Discussion Questions:
Below are student readings that provide some insight into the global status of women today and discuss some of the most relevant issues covered in the Issue in Focus. Each article is aimed at different age groups or reading levels, and is followed by some selected discussion questions.
“CEDAW – The U.S. Controversy” – An analysis of why the United States has not ratified CEDAW
“Rwanda’s Women – Leading the Way” – Rwanda is the nation with the highest percentage of women in Parliament at 56%
“Profile – Wangari Maathai” – profile of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and her work for the environment and human rights
Lesson Ideas and Curriculum
This portion of the guide contains some suggestions for possible lesson plans and activities to teach students about the global status of women today - across the disciplines. For complete lesson plans, see the recommended curriculum units listed at the end of this section.
- This edition of the World Savvy Monitor focuses on women. Using the annotated timeline and the “Women in Power and Decision-Making” section of this edition, draw a timeline that illustrates major milestones around the world relating to women’s suffrage. What correlations or patterns do you see? Where does the United States fit into these patterns, compared with other countries?
- For a more detailed investigation of women’s suffrage, look at the issue in the context of the rise of nation-states around the world. Create a chart or graphic timeline with three columns. In the first column, students can list selected countries, in the second column the date of universal women’s suffrage in those countries, and in the third column, the date in which this country became independent or became a nation-state. Notice that for the U.S., there is a large gap between independent statehood and women’s suffrage, whereas for other nations (Kenya and India are just two examples) women gained suffrage almost immediately upon the country’s independence. After making their charts, have students discuss the correlations or patterns they see. Discuss what factors led to these patterns.
- Foreign policy – Should women’s rights be a key negotiating point for the U.S. in its relations with other governments? How could such a set of policies be developed and implemented? Can the U.S. be considered a leader in international affairs if CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) remains un-ratified?
- Government – Constitutional democratic government is the hallmark of the Modern Age. The United States has been the global standard in this type of government since its inception. With respect to women’s rights, however, other nations have now exceeded the U.S. in doing two things: 1) establishing constitutional quotas for female representation at national and sub-national levels of legislative bodies and 2) ratifying “the international bill of rights for women,” i.e., CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination on Discrimination Against Women). Discuss what makes constitutional law different from other types of laws. Research and discuss the meaning of complying with international law. What happens when a country’s laws contradicts international laws? What should happen? Should the United States submit to international laws? Should countries be allowed to make their own laws, even in violation of international laws?
- Creative writing – Do a “found poem” based on a famous speech by a woman. For example, take a speech like Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” cut up the words and have students create their own poem from the key words in the speech. Other famous feminist writers and thinkers may include Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, Carol Gilligan, to name a few.
- Have students do a video montage with the speech of a feminist thinker as the soundtrack. As an example, see the We Roy website to watch a production using a speech by Arundhati Roy.
- Expository analytical writing – Have students write a persuasive essay about why the U.S. should or should not ratify CEDAW. Have them choose one of the following two aspects of the arguments. Advanced students may tackle both areas: 1) supporting women in particular, as an issue of human rights, or 2) taking leadership and setting the standard for the international community.
- Modern literature – Analyze the work of literature your class is currently reading from a feminist perspective. Who are the female characters and what are their occupations? What is expected from them compared to the male characters in the story? What time period is the story taking place in? Analyze the characters’ personalities – are women being portrayed as emotional and less logical than the male characters? Who handles the money and who handles the children? Compare the story’s characters’ gender roles to those which students witness in their own lives. What accounts for the differences and/or similarities?
- Health – Women face particular challenges in health due to the fact that they are at the nexus of family planning and care-giving.
- Although far fewer women and infants die from pregnancy and childbirth than a century ago, the numbers remain staggeringly high and much of the biology behind the risks remains intractable. The rates of maternal mortality between women in the developed world and women in the developing world has been termed by agencies like UNICEF as “the greatest health divide in the world.” Prenatal care can increase the detection rates for pregnancy related diseases, but some are not curable. Preeclampsia is one such condition, and is one of the most dangerous pregnancy complications. Research what preeclampsia is, its symptoms, and the current interventions. In doing so, students will learn about the connections amongst the respiratory, circulatory and renal systems of the body, as well as a common detection process in medicine which is tracking a substance (such as a protein or increased white blood cells) that indicates something may not be right. In the case of preeclampsia, that substance is a protein in the urine. There is no cure for preeclamspia, but there are interventions whose benefits increase with early detection.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for optimal health, infants should be breast-fed for one year. The World Health Organization advises women in developing countries to breast-feed for two years, given the potential challenges in ensuring a clean water source. Have students map out in months how long a woman is directly responsible for fetal and infant care (i.e., 9 months for gestation plus 12 or 24 for breast-feeding). Make a chart that compares women in the U.S. and women in the developing world. Next, have students calculate how much of a woman’s lifetime is involved, given the average birth rates for the U.S. and for a specific developing country. Compare those numbers. Finally, compare those numbers with maternal mortality rates, as found in the Monitor in “Women and Health.” This exercise should illustrate one of the main reasons women in developing countries face exponentially greater debilitation than women in developed countries by keeping certain variables (fetal gestation, women’s participation in breast-feeding) fixed, while other variables change (amount of time breast-feeding, number of children).
- The Environment – “Women hold up half the sky” and Wangari Maathai is an example of how women can use their particular power to make an impact on environmental conservation. Have students read the article “Profile – Wangari Maathai,” as either the starting point or culminating exercise of a deeper exploration of the science of deforestation and climate change. What were the impacts of deforestation in Kenya? How were women uniquely affected by this? Why are native trees important? Have students look around their own neighborhood and community to see how many trees there are. Which ones are native and which ones are non-native? Is there a dearth of trees in your community; if so, what are the impacts?
- Create an infographic with women at the center of a community. Connect that center with other areas of life and illustrate how those connections can have an impact on key environmental issues, such as deforestation.
- Know the numbers – Research gender statistics for US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Choose a set of criteria such as women in executive leadership positions at private companies, women’s salaries compared the men’s, women in higher education, women in political leadership, etc. Create graphs of different kinds to illustrate the comparisons.
- Track a trend – Birthrates and immigration rates have a direct impact on the well-being of the economy. An economy needs to meet demand, and increasing birth and immigration rates translate into more “mouths to feed.” But an economy also relies on individuals to be able to meet those needs, thus more “hands on deck” to feed those “mouths.” Track birthrates, immigration rates, and population growth for specific countries. Calculate rates of change (percentages) from year to year. Is the rate of change faster? Slower? What implications might be inferred from these changes?
- Analyzing thematic maps – Use the book, The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, as a way to have students analyze global statistics and thematic maps. Thematic maps and illustrations in the book include nations that have ratified CEDAW, nations with the highest and lowest life expectancy for women, women’s political participation and more. After sharing and discussing several of the maps from the book, have students create their own – by first picking a statistic affecting women globally (see Women and Education or Women in Power and Decision-Making sections of this edition for interesting statistics), and then using a world map to design a colorful and effective way to show that statistic.
Recommended Curriculum Units
These lessons and curricula offer an in-depth look at various issues in Iran, and offer full lessons ready for the classroom, complete with handouts and instructions.
International Museum of Women
IMOW is a groundbreaking social change museum that inspires global action and amplifies the voices of women worldwide through global online exhibitions, history, the arts and cultural programs that educate, create dialogue and build community. Check their education section for some excellent lessons to accompany their online exhibitions – topics include Human Rights, Women of Courage, Global Beauty, and more.
Women in World History
This site offers a variety of resources to learn about women’s history in a global context. The site offers lessons on a variety of topics such as suffrage, women in the Industrial Revolution, Mayan weavers, and women’s rights in ancient Egypt. The site also includes essays, biographies of famous women, and book reviews.
Muslim Women Through Time, PBS
No country, culture, or group stays the same indefinitely. National origin, family background, economic levels, and historical context all help determine opportunities people have in life. Muslim women are subject to these factors as well. In this lesson, students will learn how and why the role of women in Islamic cultures has evolved.
Examining Patriarchal and Matriarchal Society and Culture
This lesson accompanies the PBS Wide Angle film, Ladies First, about the women of Rwanda who are leading the country’s healing process. The lesson explores different perspectives regarding patriarchal and matriarchal cultures.
A Women’s Worth: Examining the Changing Roles of Women in Cultures Around the World, NYTimes Learning Network
In this lesson, students will consider what they already know about the role of women in various countries and professions, and prepare for the creation of a documentary highlighting the way traditional roles of women are changing in a variety of countries. They then “pitch” their documentary plans to potential “financiers” by explaining the value of such a film.
The Role of Women in the United States and Kenya, Frontline World
Using a PBS Frontline World video about Kenyan distance runner Lornah Kiplagat, this lesson examines the differences in gender roles in United States and Kenya, particularly in balancing a family with a career. Students also examine and discuss gender roles in their own families and how gender roles have changed over time.
Bride Kidnapping and the Role of Women in Kyrgyzstan, Frontline World
This lesson examines whether bride kidnapping should be considered a human rights violation or a complex cultural tradition. It includes an accompanying video from PBS: Frontline World.
Books and Readings – Non-Fiction
The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, Joni Seager
This reference book presents global statistics on women alongside colorful thematic maps illustrating women’s lives across the world today. Great visuals and thematic discussion of women’s issues makes this a great resource for students and classrooms. Maps and statistics include size of family households, education issues, the global sex trade, migrant workers, poverty, women’s political participation, and much more.
Unbowed: My Autobiography, Wangari Maathai
Maathai’s memoir of her childhood, her academic career, her marriage and children, and her life’s work leading the Green Belt Movement to fight for environmental and human rights in Kenya.
From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, Anne Firth Murray
In this book, Murray tackles health issues from prenatal care to challenges faced by aging women. Looking at how gender inequality affects basic nutrition, Murray makes clear the issues are political more than they are medical. From Outrage to Courage shows how women are organizing the world over. Women’s courage to transform their situations and communities provides inspiration and models for change, from China to India, from Indonesia to Kenya.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin
This book tells the story of Mortenson, a mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built 55 schools – especially for girls – that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. A new version of this book for youth is now available as well.
Global Women: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russel Hochschild
The editors have gathered some 15 essays on aspects of “the female underside of globalization” – e.g., Filipina housekeepers in Hong Kong, Latina domestic workers in Los Angeles, sexual slaves in Thailand, Vietnamese contract brides-mostly written by academics working in the field, but largely jargon-free. While one small book can’t say everything about a major global phenomenon, Ehrenreich and Hochschild have at least brought attention to these women’s plight.
The Global Women’s Movement: Issues and Strategies for the New Century, by Peggy Antrobus
This overview of the international women’s movement by the well-known feminist activist Peggy Antrobus asks where are women now – particularly in the Third World – in the struggle against gender inequality? What are the issues – from poverty to sexual and reproductive health to the environment – that they face in different parts of the world? What challenges confront the women’s movement and what strategies are needed?
Books – Youth Fiction
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, Suzanne Fisher Staples
Life is both sweet and cruel to strong-willed young Shabanu, whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. The second daughter in a family with no sons, she’s been allowed freedoms forbidden to most Muslim girls. But when a tragic encounter with a wealthy and powerful landowner ruins the marriage plans of her older sister, Shabanu is called upon to sacrifice everything she’s dreamed of. Should she do what is necessary to uphold her family’s honor – or listen to the stirrings of her own heart? For ages 12 and up.
The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl, by Ma Yan and Pierre Haski
In a drought-stricken corner of rural China, an education can be the difference between a life of crushing poverty and the chance for a better future. But money is scarce, and the low wages paid for backbreaking work aren’t always enough to pay school fees. Ma Yan’s heart-wrenching, honest diary chronicles her struggle to escape hardship and bring prosperity to her family through her persistent, sometimes desperate, attempts to continue her schooling. Great for middle school readers.
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else. Can she handle the taunts, the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school?
*Note about books for young adults: these are a handful of the many quality books dealing with contemporary issues for young women and girls. For more great fiction reads on young women across cultures, check these booklists:
Children’s Cooperative Book Center
ALA Growing Up Around the World
Iron Ladies of Liberia
After 14 years of a brutal civil war, Liberia elects its first female president – Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, nicknamed the Iron Lady. This film follows her first year in office, as she struggles to rebuild a war-ravaged country, fight rampant corruption and prevent a descent back into war, along with her predominately female cabinet. For accompanying lesson plans, click here.
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai
This documentary tells the dramatic story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy – a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.
Ten years after the bloody genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in just 100 days, Rwanda’s women are leading their country’s healing process and taking their society forward into a different future. They are playing a remarkable role in politics and are also emerging as prominent figures in the business sector. Watch the full documentary, from PBS: WIDE ANGLE, online.
Time for School
One hundred and eighty-two nations have promised to provide access to free and compulsory education for every child in the world – by 2015. To test the reality of this commitment, PBS: WIDE ANGLE profiles children in Japan, Kenya, Benin, Brazil, Romania, and India who have managed to enroll in the first year of primary school – in most cases despite great odds. Though not specifically about women’s issues, the stories that profile girls highlight some of the challenges the world’s girls face when they enroll in primary education. Also look for the follow-up film, Back to School, which follows the seven students two years after they first began going to school.
Not For Ourselves Alone
This documentary, from the acclaimed director Ken Burns, focuses on the struggles of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as they strive to give birth to the women’s movement. Together they fought for women everywhere, and their strong willpower and sheer determination still ripples through contemporary society.
Websites and Multimedia
International Museum of Women
IMOW is a groundbreaking social change museum that inspires global action and amplifies the voices of women worldwide through global online exhibitions, history, the arts and cultural programs that educate, create dialogue and build community. The website includes excellent online exhibitions and podcasts, as well as curriculum.
Global Fund For Women
The Global Fund for Women is an international network of women and men committed to a world of equality and social justice. They advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. Find out more about the issues and grantees on their website.
CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, which places special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE’s community-based efforts to improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. Find out more about the issues, CARE’s work, and ways that you can get involved.
Amnesty International Violence against Women Campaign
Campaign from USA chapter of Amnesty International contains background information and ways to take action to stop violence against women. Subtopics include violence against Native and Alaskan women, international violence against women, and women’s human rights defenders.
Press Institute for Women in the Developing World
The Press Institute is a non-profit organization that trains women in the developing world to be citizen journalists. The Press Institute emphasizes reporting on six core issues that most affect women in their communities: HIV/AIDS, violence against women, poverty, reproductive rights, political oppression, and community development. The Press Institute currently operates two Global Training Sites: Chiapas, Mexico and Kathmandu, Nepal.
Activities described in this Classroom Companion correspond to the following national standards from McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning).
World History Standards:
Era 8: A Half-Century of Crisis and Achievement, 1900-1945
- Understands reform, revolution, and social change in the world economy of the early 20th Century
Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
- Understands major global trends since World War II
World History Across the Eras
- Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history
World History Topics:
- Cultural continuity and change
- International diplomacy and relations
- Women's movement for civil rights and equal opportunities
- Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
- Understands the historical perspective
What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?
- Understands issues regarding the proper scope and limits of rights and the relationships among personal, political, and economic rights
- Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
- Impact of world political, demographic, and environmental trends
- International diplomacy and relations
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
- Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
- Conservation of Matter and Energy
- Interdependence of Organisms
- Populations and Ecosystems
6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics