In 2015, the 193 member countries of the United Nations came together to commit to 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 5 focused on gender equality and set the ambitious target of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls everywhere by 2030.
Six years later, large gender gaps remain across the world, and the early evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a regressive effect on gender equality.
According to Unicef, gender equality is essential to ensure that every child – girl and boy – has a fair chance in life.
Gender equality in childhood
Unicef data suggests that in the first decade of life (0-9 years of age), gender disparities are relatively small, particularly in early childhood. They become more pronounced in adolescence (10-19 years of age), a crucial period when boys’ and girls’ attitudes about gender develop and gender norms consolidate. Adolescent girls, due to expected gender roles, may also face a disproportionate burden of domestic work, expectations to be married, risks of early pregnancy, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.
According to experts, small actions such as exposing children to non-stereotypical characters found in books and movies, or dividing housework equally at home, can redefine behavior patterns for this and the next generation, and broaden women’s access to resources and opportunities.
DO NOT LIMIT YOUR CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES
All children, regardless of biological sex, have the right to reach their full potential by learning any subject, practicing any type of sport and playing with any toy.
Experts say that curtailing activities according to biological sex may stunt a child’s development, as toys traditionally targeting boys tend to develop more spatial skills, while toys marked as “feminine” stimulate more sociability and caring. When limited to the type of play expected for their gender, children fail to develop certain skills.
ACTIONS & OPEN CONVERSATION
Even if they are being raised in an environment free of gender stereotypes at home, children still receive such messages in media, at school and with their extended families and peers.
“They pick up what they see in culture and stick to it. Setting a good example (for example, having a dad who does the cooking) sometimes is not enough. Parents really need to point out and talk about gender stereotypes explicitly with their children,” explains Christia Brown, a professor of Developmental and Social Psychology at the University of Kentucky.
ALL FEELINGS ARE HUMAN
Children need to know that they can express all their feelings, that there are no “girl” or “boy” emotions.
Boys, for instance, should be encouraged to develop their sensitivity and affectivity. “Most kids are inclined to be kind and to be empathetic and to be compassionate,” explains Judy Y. Chu, who teaches a course on boys’ psychosocial development at Stanford University.
“It is not about changing them, really, it is more about letting them keep those things, their abilities and their sensitivities. All those things will serve them well.”
READ, LISTEN TO AND LIVE IN A DIVERSE WORLD
Living among people of different social classes, races, nationalities and cultures in media helps children, regardless of their own race or gender, understand that diversity is part of human nature and not something “different” from their world.
Although media content reflecting diversity is increasing, many children’s programs lag behind, restricted, for instance, to stories with white and male protagonists.
DO NOT CRITICIZE A CHILD’S OWN EXPLORATION OF THEIR BODY
If a child wants to touch him/herself, it is crucial not to criticize, according to State University of São Paulo professor Célia Regina Rossi, an expert on education and sexuality.
“We have to say that [touching] is not bad,” she says, but that other people cannot touch the children’s private parts. Rossi emphasizes that children need to know that “they are the only ones allowed to touch [those parts].”
Along the same lines, children also need to be told that touching themselves is a private activity, Rossi stresses, to take place in “their own room, if the child has a room, or in the bathroom. Never let that happen in an open environment.”
BE AWARE OF RACISM
Gender can also be intertwined with race.
It’s important to expose all children to stories that deconstruct the idea that other people with different skin color means being associated with everything that is bad.”
Show children that the history of all people, regardless of their race or skin color, is also made up of heroes, princesses and queens.
As well, be aware of racism at school. Children do not always understand what is happening and can end up keeping silent about the problem. That’s why is so important to listen to them and the way they behave.
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