Gender stereotypes shape our perception of ourselves, influencing the way we interact with the people and the world around us.

Parenting

A Guide to Teaching Children About Gender Equality

March 8th, 2022
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Raising children to be advocates for gender equality is essential in building a fair and inclusive future.

However, it can be difficult to know where to start with teaching children about gender equality.

To help, we’ve put together a guide with some suggestions on teaching gender equality for kids. This comprehensive guide will help you to introduce the topic of gender equality to your children in a safe, informative, and inclusive way.

Understand What Gender Equality Means

Before anything else, it is important to ensure you have a sound understanding of gender equality, and what it means.

Gender equality describes the ability for all genders to access opportunities and rights, without facing discrimination. Gender equality does not mean that every individual is treated identically. Rather, gender equality values the individual needs and wants of each gender, at an equal level.

Gender-based discrimination and inequality affects areas like:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Health & Medical Care
  • Citizenship
  • Social Mobility
  • Violence & Crime
  • Land Ownership
  • Marriage & Divorce

In the UK, gender inequality is still a systemic issue. Statistics show that in 2021, the UK ranked 23rd on the global gender gap index, placing it behind other European countries like Germany, France and Ireland.

For example, the UK Government’s Gender Equality Monitor reports that for every £1 the average man earns, the average woman earns 82p. The report also states that in 2018, women were more than twice as likely as men to have experienced domestic abuse that year.
It is worth remembering that gender is not the same as the biological distinction between sexes. Rather, gender is a spectrum, comprised of different gender identities.

A young boy smiling.

Understand How Children Internalise Gender Stereotypes

Boys don’t wear makeup, and girls don’t play football. Girls are vulnerable, and boys don’t cry. Boys like the colour blue, and girls like the colour pink.

You’re probably familiar with gendered statements like these; these stereotypical gender perceptions are internalised within us from a young age. Gender stereotypes are widely held beliefs or expectations about the behaviour or characteristics of certain genders. These stereotypes shape our perception of ourselves, influencing the way we interact with the people and the world around us.

Gender stereotypes like these are typically developed in the family setting, when children are of a young age, observed in things like an uneven distribution of housework or different behavioural expectations for boys and girls.

These gender stereotypes are also reinforced by various other social factors, like the representation of women and men seen in books, films and tv. Children observe the gender stereotypes they see around them and incorporate them into their own behaviour.

A young girl climbing the branch of a tree.

Promote Gender Equality in The Home

Children model their behaviour on the people they observe around them, which is why leading by example is essential in teaching your children about gender equality. If you have a partner, be mindful of the way you split household responsibilities between you; what messages might your behaviour be sending to your children?

Similarly, you should make a conscious effort to involve your child in all areas of responsibility in the home, regardless of their gender. For example, boys should be encouraged to get involved in cleaning, and girls should be encouraged to help with DIY, helping to combat traditional gender roles for kids around the home.A boy and his caregiver cooking together.

Talk Openly About Gender Equality

Finding opportunities to talk about gender equality in your child’s day-to-day life is important. Try speaking to your child about the presentations of gender they see in the media; are there any stereotypes they can identify? How might they be damaging?

You can also discuss how gender inequality can occur within the home. Ask whether they think the housework is being shared out fairly. Are there any chores that seem like they’re just for girls, or just for boys? Why do they think that? Is it true?

Maintaining an ongoing discussion about gender inequality with kids helps to teach them how to identify inequality in everyday situations.

This could also translate to other walks of life as well, not just gender. Things like disability, racism and homophobia are other topics worth discussing. These types of conversations can increase their awareness and understanding as they grow, keeping these issues at the forefront of their development.

A young boy playing with toy gardening tools.

Be Mindful of Gendered Language

The language we use is gendered. Certain words we use are associated with more feminine attributes, while other words are associated with masculine attributes.

For example, the words ‘beautiful’ or ‘delicate’ are generally used to describe girls, while words like ‘strong’ and ‘handsome’ are associated with boys.

Using gendered language around children reinforces gender stereotypes, suggesting to boys that they can’t be beautiful, and to girls that they can’t be strong.

Avoid using gender-biased expressions, statements or justifications that enforce gender stereotypes. The United Nations lists some good examples of discriminatory phrases, including:

  • “She throws/runs/fights like a girl.”
  • “In a manly way.”
  • “Oh, that’s women’s work.”
  • “Thank you to the ladies for making the room more beautiful.”
  • “Men just don’t understand.”

Being mindful of the language you use with your children is an important part of creating a space in which they can learn about gender equality, without reinforcing restrictive gender stereotypes.

Two brothers playing in the grass.

Keep Play and Toys Gender Neutral

Many children’s toys are clearly associated with gender binaries. Fighting, aggression-based toys (like wrestlers, soldiers, guns, and superheroes) are associated with boys, while appearance-based, domestic-orientated toys (like Barbies, makeup kits, tiaras, and baby dolls) are associated with girls.

Play and toys play an essential role in child development. That’s why, when teaching children about gender equality, it’s important to keep playtime gender neutral. This means allowing your child to play with whatever toy they want, regardless of their sex.

A toddler playing with wooden dolls.

Encourage Access to All Activities

Like with children’s toys, there are certain expectations when it comes to the gender of particular activities. For example, playing sports (like football or rugby) is considered for boys, and more creative pursuits (like writing or painting) is considered for girls.

Curtailing specific activities based on a child’s gender can have damaging effects on their development, leading to an impaired development of certain skills. Children should be encouraged to partake in any activities they wish, regardless of their biological sex or gender, as is their right.

A young child in football uniform.

Seek Out Positive Role Models

Role models are incredibly influential on children’s development. Look for role models that defy gender stereotypes, inspiring your child to take a more open approach to not only their own gender, but the gender expectations of those around them.

Seeking out gender positive role models will help to demonstrate the way in which individuals can achieve incredible things, regardless of the expectations of their gender. Celebrate role models for their strengths, and the ways in which they contribute to gender equality and defy stereotypes.

Some mainstream positive gender role models include:

A pre-teen girl smiling and looking happy.

Be Aware of Intersectional Inequality

While there is no agreed upon way to teach your children about gender equality, the suggestions made in this

While teaching your child about gender equality, it is necessary to consider other intersecting forms of inequality, and how they might inform your child’s understanding of gender equality.

Intersectional inequality describes the ways in which different systems of inequality – such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or class – intersect to create unique experiences of inequality.

A group of children sitting together and talking.

Increasing your child’s awareness of intersectional inequality encourages them to consider the lived experiences of other people, broadening their understanding of the need for inclusion, and the individual barriers that various minorities face. guide should provide a good starting point.

These tips and pointers will help to encourage your child’s awareness about gender stereotypes, increasing their respect for differences and empowering them with the knowledge that all people should have access to equal opportunities, regardless of their gender.

For more advice on teaching children about gender, you can check out our recommendations for children’s books on gender identity here. 

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