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 countries. All societies have gradually accepted that women’s equality and empowerment play a pivotal role in the overall development of any country. In spite of the significant progress and development in gender equality, no country has yet achieved true gender parity. Some education policymakers have been strongly advocating for introducing gender education in early childhood to achieve gender equality and break gender stereotypes.
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 and 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 experiences within their families, schools, and surroundings.
Read: Gender Equality Begins At Home: A Personal Reflection
There are gender expectations and standards that kids internalize very early. They 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, and eve-teasing are typically glorified in stories, novels, and films in all cultures.
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. 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 growing up in a household where males do not participate in domestic work, usually find it difficult to do any chores as an adult.
Read: A Step-by-Step Guide for Men to Promote Gender Equality
Why Is It Necessary to Introduce Gender Education in Early Childhood?
“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.”
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, suggesting the importance of introducing gender education In early childhood.
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.
Read: Mind The Gender Gap!
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.
Educating the Educators First
Teachers and educators play very important roles in helping young children unlearn societal expectations or norms.
Unfortunately, teachers have their own cultural and traditional prejudices, and biases about gender roles, and norms. Schools and teachers often inflict their gender prejudices and biases on students, sometimes consciously.
“Social transformation” involves 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 genders, she/he would not be able to teach the students to ignore gender norms, provide children with counter-narratives, 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 should involve unlearning and re-learning different issues. Teachers should be trained to identify how their biases affect their classroom behaviors. Educators of young children should offer their students different perspectives, including those that counter society’s confined constructs. Thus introducing gender education in early childhood should complement the readiness of early childhood educators in teaching gender in schools.
Gender Education in the Present Education System
A huge part of a child’s cognitive and affective formation of identity, personality, and interactions with the outer world happens through school, teachers, and peers. In spite of the immense potential of early childhood education in dismantling the narratives of gender inequality, very little importance is given to including gender education in the school curriculum.
Read: Girls’ Education: Challenges and Recommendations
Gender inequality and gender discrimination are 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
Sudipta Dev Chakraborti
An excellent article, and so pertinent to our times. Making young children understand gender equality should be introduced in schools worldwide.
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.
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.
Very well said! so important! agree that the educators need to learn first
Wow I was thinking about this the other day. I want my daughter, she’s almost 2, to know more about this topic and this is so helpful thank you so much.
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
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.
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!
My daughter and I have been watching Mrs. America on Hulu. It’s an interesting show about the Equal Rights Ammendment. Very eye opening.
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.
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.
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.
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
Prime Beauty Blog (@PrimeBeauty50)
This is an important topic. My grandson is 14 months old and I have him “help” me household chores already.
If we can teach our kids to count, we can teach about their genders too.
Angela Cardamone @marathonsandmotivation.com
This is such an important topic, but one I had not thought about with early childhood. Very helpful, so glad I came across this post!!!
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.