Women’s Day: Breaking Gender Bias in a Child’s Early Years

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Women’s Day is here, and this year’s theme is “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Future”. Every year on March 8, we celebrate women, discuss breaking prejudices and a world without prejudices, discriminations and stereotypes. There could be various manifestations of prejudices that stem from the past, centuries-old customs and beliefs, which unfortunately also prevail today.

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The theme announced by the United Nations has two words of encouragement “Sustainable Tomorrow”. Building a sustainable, bias-free world is key, and it starts with changing our outlook towards living in a diverse, equitable and inclusive place. It’s not just being gender-neutral, it’s way beyond that!

Early childhood matters

The early age of children is crucial. (Representative image/Pexels)

A child’s first 2000 days are very critical for learning and development in general. When children are born, they are unaware of their gender and role expectations. However, studies reveal that by the time children reach the age of two, they are aware of the social relevance of gender, and by age four they begin to associate with the behavioral expectations of each gender. They learn this through socialization, a process in which people learn to behave in a particular way dictated by the values ​​and beliefs of society. They develop opinions, attitudes and perspectives based on the environment in which they socialize and their early life experiences. Global Early Adolescent Study and the World Health Organization (WHO), in a study of 15 countries, found that culturally imposed gender stereotypes become firmly entrenched in early adolescence, leading to a increased risk of mental and physical health problems leading to lifelong negative consequences. This means that if we aspire to a sustainable future, we must start early and start with the early years.

teach to change

Children learn by socializing with their parents, their peers and the people around them. They spend a large part of their lives in schools and teachers. Their opinion of themselves and the world also depends on the learning environment. In this article, I would like to focus on how early childhood practitioners can break down gender biases and stereotypes to provide a gender neutral environment and learning experiences to help every child reach their full potential. A rewarding program encompasses a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion.

Pedagogy and practices should include:

Gender-neutral and diverse imagery:

Young children learn through pictures and stories. Be sure to choose illustrations, pictures, and images that are gender-neutral and non-role-defining. For example, a photo showing fathers helping with household chores, a mixed representation of community helpers such as a policewoman (a little-used word) or a nurse with others or a group of children from diverse origins, cultures or any disability. It is a subtle attempt to break down prejudices and stereotypical models.

No labeling

Children learn a lot through pretend play, which connects them to the real world. they should be encouraged to choose what they want to pretend and play. They can dress up as a chef, nurse’s aide, doctor or ballerina or wear any outfit/accessory regardless of gender. It’s the child’s choice if a boy wants to wear a dupatta or a scarf, or if a girl wants to be a firefighter. Children should not be labeled or guided to play gender roles. In my experience, children develop respect and appreciation for each other when they are not operating from framed gender identities.

Learning resources and grouping

Every child will have access to all types of learning resources and activities – arts, crafts, blocks, books, toys, games, STEM-based sensory activities. Children can explore any activity and work in mixed groups.

gender-neutral vocabulary

Children should be encouraged to call their peers by name rather than him or them. Teachers address the group as “kids” not boys and girls. In light of gender neutrality, we will redefine typed concepts in the program such as policeman/woman to police officer, or postman instead of “postman” or people/people instead of man or a woman. Strive to use “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in all written and spoken contexts.

Expressing emotions:

Encourage children to express their feelings and to respect the feelings of their friends. It’s “ok” to cry, jump, laugh harder, get angry, or be scared, regardless of gender or situation. Learning to express emotions is a crucial feature of healthy social-emotional development. Teachers should address stereotypical observations through reflective discussions.

Parent login:

Both parents are encouraged to participate in their child’s learning journey. Parents will also participate in storytelling sessions, singing sessions, PTCs, sports day and many school celebrations and events. There should be a parent helpline available to parents if they need help in dealing with a situation with their child.

To bring gender neutrality and diversity is indeed a daunting task. However, any culturally insensitive moment should be seen as an opportunity for learning and understanding for all stakeholders – parents, children and educators. It may be a small step towards building a “sustainable tomorrow” where our little ones are ready to accept and value differences!

(The author is Curriculum Manager, KLAY Preschools and Daycare.)

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