Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir teaches gender studies to high school students. She says sensitization to gender discrimination helps them become happier adults.
Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir teaches gender studies at Borgarholtsskóli:“https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/12/12/icelands-high-gender-ranking-masks-continuing-violence-harassment-and-everyday-sexism-experts-say.html” high school in Reykjavik. An active feminist, she tells euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat that Iceland still has a long way to go to get rid of gender discrimination, and advocates sensitizing youth from an early age.
The school system by keeping silent about gender issues is part of the problem. It is withholding stereotypes and discrimination
Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir:
“I created this class 10 years ago. The reason why I did is that is that I had just graduated from my teachers education, and I was an active feminist. And I knew the law. Because the Icelandic law says that all students should have some gender equality education. And my research showed that there was not such education, not systematic at least. So I asked my school master if I could try to make a class about gender equality and he said yes. My aim was to make my students aware of discrimination and to analyze their society with the gender classes. To see and analyse all stages of society. For instance we look at prostitution, we look at the workplace, where the genders are discriminated, actually both of them. Because guys are not comfortable with going to nursing, because it’s all female. And we examine the politics, and pornography, and we look at music videos and we look at the discourse about jokes about genders. And we take the violence , the domestic violence, rape… So we analyse the society together and try to see how and why the sexes are discriminated. And my aim is first of all to make them realize that it is a fact. Because not all of them are aware, or have realized , they just think this is how it should be. That this is normal. Because in some fields of the society discrimination is so deep in the culture that people look at it like the nature of things you know. So the aim is to make them realize that this is systematic. Throughout the society, every part of it there is some kind of discrimination.
I saw that this was really empowering for them. To realize the stereotypes. To realize what effect pornography and advertisements have on them, negative influence in many cases. So this was sort of freeing them, and empowering them. So one of the aims is to empower them. But the final aim is that they will be happier. Happier people. Happier people make good societies.
Would you say that in 2017 teenagers are more aware of those issues or not?
Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir:
“This is a good question. I think they are a little more aware. I’m not sure that we have gone further in getting closer to equality, I’m not sure about that. Even though the discussion is louder. But we have these backlashes. Now. For example pornography it is a backlash. And if you are not addressing it in our society, it’s going to affect our health. Our sexualities. Our views about each other. Our feelings about each other. This is just an example. And research is showing that we are not getting fast forward closer to gender equality in Iceland, even though we do see some change. So I think, what I have been preaching outside,
because I’m an active teacher and feminist outside the school, I think that we need to start much younger. We need to start to educate the playschool teachers. And elementary teachers. They need to get this gender sensitivity. Because the school system as a whole needs to be a part of the solution. And it’s not.
The school system by keeping silence about these issues they are part of the problem. They are withholding stereotypes. They are withholding discrimination So I think that we need to have all the teachers, gender sensitivity. And we need them to understand, all of them, that we must go throughout textbooks and see what’s going on there. Because many of them are sexist and horrible. This needs to be done. And the school culture needs to be examined with gender classes. Are we discriminating genders in the corridors? Or in the library, or you know… This is sort of indirect education. And we need direct education from the early childhood.
I see results; I see a change in youth. I see a change. They both have this conversation where I can evaluate how the issues are having effect on them. And they write diaries where they, where I can see it. So yes, of course it changes them, some more and some less. But I think nobody takes the course and nothing changes. I’m sure about that So even though, the least results we will get by this kind of education, is that they will get , they will start to listen. When a feminist is speaking in the parliament, they will listen. Before they might not have. They might have thought, a feminist is talking, I close my ears. Like many people do. It’s like that. And it’s like that in Iceland too. So I think this is the least you get away from here, is that you learn that feminists are your best friends! They are our best friends! They want life to be better for everybody. And if you learn about feminists and that feminists, their aim is to get everybody more happy, this misconception our feminists, is really a sort of thing that shoots you down. We need to be listened to. If we want to change something we need to be listened to.”