gender education in early childhood
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Importance of Introducing Gender Education In Early Childhood

Thanks to the increasing number of feminist movements and activism, globally women’s rights and equality have started gaining momentum over the last three decades. Women’s empowerment, now, is an important developmental agenda in most of the countries. All societies have gradually accepted that women’s equality and empowerment is not only a gender issue, but an intersectional issue which plays a pivotal role in the overall development of any country. Gender discrimination, gender-based violence, harmful gender norms are now recognized as a violation of human rights.

In spite of the significant progress and development in gender equality, no country has yet achieved true gender parity. In fact, there’s still a huge gender gap in the areas of women’s economic and political participation, women’s representation in leadership roles in government or private sectors, rate of gender-based violence and women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

 

How Children Learn About Gender Roles, Gender Norms and Relations

Gender Norms are ideas about how people of a particular gender in a specific society or community should behave. Gender norms are the building blocks of gender identity and gender stereotyping. Whereas Gender roles are different socially attributed responsibilities, attitudes and behaviors of each gender. Gender relations are relations between men and women, and how power, access to resources are distributed between men and women.

Research shows that the concept of gender in children forms between the ages of three and seven. During the early developmental phase, children form an understanding of gender norms, identities and stereotypes based on their experience within their families, schools, and surroundings.

There are expectations and standards based on one’s gender which are internalized very early in life. Children are exposed to these norms and standards in books, cartoons, movies, TV shows, print, and digital commercials! For instance, women are sexually objectified in TV and digital commercials all over the world. Toxic male masculinity, male dominance, eve-teasing are typically glorified in stories, novels, films in all cultures. The roles and nature of women in films, and books are too stereotypical and a far cry from ‘equality’.

If a child is exposed to certain experiences as a part of his/her normal developmental dynamics, they tend to normalize it and develop plenty of unconscious biases towards that experience. These children grow up to replicate those experiences in their lives as adults. For instance, young Kids exposed to gender-based violence at home or in the community internalized those experiences, and tend to repeat them as adults. The same is true for gender power dynamics, gender roles or behaviors. Boys who grow up in a household where males do not participate in domestic work, usually find it difficult to do any chores as an adult.

Read: Gender Equality Begins At Home: A Personal Reflection

Role of Education in dismantling Societal Influences

“Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children’s intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don’t inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.”

 

gender education in early childhood

 

Education plays a very important role in shaping up a child’s mind. Early formative years are the best time to imprint deep, meaningful thoughts and connections about breaking stereotypes, by providing children a gender-neutral education through arts, drama, musical, and other formal and informal curricula. The aim of such education should be to train young minds to question, challenge, and counter what they see in society, at home or on TV.

Traditional education curriculum at the elementary and middle school should be carefully designed with a strong gender lens, so that children are not exposed to any gender stereotypes, and they are able to unlearn some of the gender norms and roles they experience outside the school.

Early educational intervention in shifting the ways one handle powers, breaking the connection between masculinity and violence, encouraging boys to share household responsibilities and girls to take up leadership roles, ensuring equal access to opportunities between boys and girls, breaking the stereotype of gender-specific sports, toys, and education could make a huge impact on the gender equality and women’s empowerment of a country. Thus including gender education in early childhood could be a deciding factor in how a child would grow up and participate in creating a gender-equal community as an adult.

Sometimes informal education in the form of role-playing, art, debate, or drama can effectively tap the subconscious mind of children, without them having to deal with the stress of traditional learning. Yet the lessons often leave a deep and long-lasting impression in their minds.

 

gender education in early childhood

Educating the Educators First 

Teachers and educators play very important roles in helping young children unlearn societal expectations or norms. Educational programs are designed specifically for young kids to reverse gender narratives and gender stereotypes they experience in their day to day lives.

Unfortunately, teachers in different societies have their own cultural and traditional prejudices,  implicit and explicit biases about gender roles, and norms. Schools and teachers often inflict their gender prejudices and biases to students, sometimes with conscious objectives of doing so.

“Social transformation” needs a lot of work on removing our subconscious biases. If a teacher doesn’t believe that societal norms, rules and responsibilities should be the same for both the genders, she/he would not be able to teach the students to ignore gender norms,  to provide children counternarratives, or help them question the status quo.

Thus it’s very important to train and educate the teachers to identify their own biases about how boys and girls are expected to behave, express themselves or the roles they play. This training might involve unlearning their life-long beliefs and traditions, working through different issues in their personal and professional spaces. Educators of young children should offer their students different perspectives, including those that counter society’s confined constructs, teachers should also be trained to identify how their biases affect their classroom behaviors.

 

Gender Education in the Present Education System

In spite of the immense potential of early childhood education in dismantling the narratives of gender inequality, very little importance is given to include gender education in the school curriculum. A huge part of a child’s cognitive and affective formation of identity, personality, and interactions with the outer world happens through the school, teachers, and peers. It’s extremely important to include gender education in early childhood education.

Gender inequality and gender discrimination are systemic issues, deeply embedded in every culture as a result of century-old patriarchy. We’ve seen recently how the COVID 19 crisis has disproportionately affected women and girls worldwide. There has been a significant increase in gender-based violence worldwide. Women were also disproportionately impacted by the loss of income, increased burden of domestic work, child and elder care, and loss of their sexual and reproductive rights. Many of these issues are cultural and need a systemic, scientific approach to eliminate them.

Education is one of the strongest interventions of any systemic change. Early education or childhood education is particularly helpful to counter narrate the personal and societal experience, and to tap the subconscious minds of boys and girls. Policymakers, educators and the international development community worldwide should not underestimate the importance of early childhood education in eliminating gender norms, gender-based violence, and discrimination from society.

#GenderEqualityBeginsAtHome

Swagata Sen

A Clinical Researcher by profession, I am originally from India; now live in California with my family. I am an advocate of gender equality and women empowerment. I am also a Certified Reiki Healer and a Certified Sexual Assault Counselor and Advocate. I write about women's rights, equality and gender based issues to create awareness and to include every body in my fight against gender discrimination.

20 Comments

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    Amber

    I love this. It is important. I always tell my daughter she can do anything a boy can. The same with my son. I always told him if he wanted to wear pink, that’s fine!

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    Cristina Petrini

    In this period of social turmoil, in my opinion it is important to educate young people to respect, in every form.
    Race, sex, ideas … one cannot be understanding of some things and others not.

    • Swagata Sen

      Swagata Sen

      Thank you for your comments, Cristina. I totally agree that we can no longer ignore these systemic social injustices and need to educate ourselves and our children about these issues.

    • Swagata Sen

      Swagata Sen

      Thanks for your comments and glad that you liked the article. I agree with you that it’s really important for the education policy makers to understand the importance of including gender education in elementary and middle school curriculum in all the countries.

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    joanna

    This is such an important topic that should be taught not only in school but also at home. Parents are responsible of shaping the way a child grows up, its personality and understanding, they should be the ones putting that first stepping stone into a gender neutral future.

    • Swagata Sen

      Swagata Sen

      Thanks for your comments Jessica. I’m sure your daughter will learn to ignore social gender norms and stereotypes as you are already aware and conscious about this. I strongly believe that #GenderEqualityBeginsAtHome

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        mischievouswordsbymartaazra

        We live in a very traditional town, where even now kids are thought that boys wear blue and girls wear pink. My son loves violet and unicorns while one of my daughters hates pink and all things too girly(what ever those are) I teach them that they can do what ever they want and wear what they like. My son got a broken nose from one of the other boys who made fun of him because he wore a violet shirt with unicorn on it. Then while confronting his dad, the dad said well maybe you should not let your son wear girls things. I almost broke his nose.

        This is such an important topic that has to be thought from a young age.

        • Swagata Sen

          Swagata Sen

          Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience! Many of us are fighting with this kind of gender discrimination and stereotypes! Sorry that your son had to go through this. I strongly believe that he will grow up as a strong and brave human being as he is lucky to have you as his mom! Keep fighting! Good luck with raising gender-neutral kids!

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    Monidipa

    Academic and cognitive differences in gender. On average, girls are more motivated than boys to perform well in school, at least during elementary school. … By the end of high school, this difference in course selection makes a measurable difference in boys’ and girls’ academic performance in these subjects. Evidence shows that educators need to have gender awareness to be open to girls’ and boys’ choices in learning and development, help children explore who they are, and make connections to people around them, as well as gain self-confidence, well-being, peer acceptance, and social support.

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    Priya

    I enjoyed reading your post. Parents should treat all their children equally(whether boy or girl)from the time they are born as children will learn from what parents do and not what they say. Every parent should teach their children through their actions that boys and girls are equal.

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    Melissa Cushing

    I am loving this informative post and yes…. it is ll about early education and teaching the young ones about diversity and equality no matter the color, race or gender. All of the hate filled people out there were taught to feel that way and it is about changing that and spreading and teaching love….not hate.

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    World In Eyes

    Indeed so simply explained..this is really very meaningful and much helpful…Thanks for sharing such valuable information..every child should be aware of this

  • Avatar

    Hannah Marie

    This is so important to teach our children. It’s not always right to let other gender dominate. We all can excel and do things equally.

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