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Exploring gender representations in English language textbooks: A systematic review (2000 to 2022)

Michael Thomas, Professor of Education at Liverpool John Moores University Ayca Gunaydin Kaymakcioglu, Research Support Assistant at Liverpool John Moores University

Research on English language teacher training, digital literacies and gender equality in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC) is a strategic priority according to UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (on the quality of education) and 5 (on gender equality). Arising from this focus on gender inequality, this blog post describes research findings from the first phase of the THEMIS project (‘Evaluating gender equity and equality in the English language teacher curriculum, ICT policies and learning materials’).

Funded by the British Council Widening Participation programme, THEMIS is coordinated by Liverpool John Moores University in conjunction with four universities from LMICs: the University of Ghana, Igbinedion University in Nigeria, the University of South Africa and the University of Botswana.

The first stage of the project carried out a systematic literature review of research on gender equality in English language teaching and the representation of gender in teaching materials in particular, covering the period 2000 to 2022. Using the PRISMA model, we conducted searches of two databases (Web of Science and Scopus), in addition to contacting scholars and hand searching on the subject. Following the exclusion of irrelevant and duplicate records, 124 publications were identified arising from peer-reviewed journal articles, conference proceedings, book chapters and reports on gender equality in language education.

Findings indicate that there has been an increase in publications on topics related to gender equality in the past decade compared to earlier years. More specifically, the increase that began in 2013 (n=7) reached a peak in 2021 (n=22) and underlined that gender equality in language teaching is an enduring, relevant and important subject for educational research.

‘Findings indicate that there has been an increase in publications on topics related to gender equality in the past decade compared to earlier years.’

The included publications primarily represented research undertaken in Asia (n=75, 60 per cent) and Africa (n=32, 26 per cent). Exploring gender representations in language teaching materials was the most prevalent area of study (n=58, 47 per cent). Significantly, studies on textbooks revealed only minor changes in gendered representations over time. Despite progressive trends reported in a minority of studies, gender inequality persists; studies typically conclude that females are underrepresented, and that materials continue to embed abundant examples of stereotypical characters and gender-biased images.

Overall, the review highlighted that gender bias in textbooks is a valuable focus for future education research, as argued by Blumberg (2007, p. 4), as ‘it turns out to be one of the best camouflaged – and hardest to budge – rocks in the road to gender equality in education’. A significant recommendation emerging from the review is that all language learning resources should be the subject of research and reform. Following the systematic review, the next stage of the THEMIS project involves a comparative critical analysis of gender representation in English language textbooks currently used in the four countries from primary to higher education.


Blumberg, R. L. (2007). Gender bias in textbooks: A hidden obstacle on the road to gender equality in education.

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