- Children see gender inequality in their homes, communities everyday: UNICEF
- Children often copy adult role models such as parents, caregivers: Experts
- Encourage children to have gender diverse friends: Experts
New Delhi: When Arjun, a 5-year-old boy, was told by his friend Rashi, 5-year-old to make tea for them while playing House, he denied and said that girls do the ‘cooking’ and boys go to office. The argument turned into a fight and their little game of House got over in no time. According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), children see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day through textbooks, in the media and among the adults who care for them. This exposure to a certain way of being shape up the attitude and behaviour of children way into their adulthood. It can impact their self-esteem, relationship, health and safety, say experts. Most children as young as 18 months develop the ability to recognise stereotypical gender groups such as female and male, as per experts. To learn about how parents can challenge gender stereotypes in the early years of a child, NDTV spoke with Nandita Shah, Co-Founder of Akshara Centre, a non-governmental organisation working for the empowerment of women and girls and Charit Jaggi, Founder and Director, We The Young, an online platform for the youth to share stories around LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual and more) issues, mental health, gender inequality and sexual harassment.
Also Read: Children And Gender Identity: How Can Parents And Teachers Support Gender Nonconforming Adolescents?
Shun Gender Stereotypes By Educating Yourself, Learning And Unlearning
“The first step towards raising children who are away from gender stereotypes is to shun gender stereotypes yourself. This will require a great deal of unlearning the notions that the adults have been conditioned from their own childhood. They also need to educate themselves and make themselves aware about gender and which activities or notions are discriminatory. Parents and teachers need to make constant conscious efforts to first rectify their own behaviour,” said Ms Shah. She added that children copy their parents and teachers and so if they see the adult men in their family doing jobs like fixing a gadget or the women in their family doing most of the cooking, they start believing that these are ‘men’s jobs’ and ‘women’s jobs’ respectively.
Let your child see you doing a variety of tasks that may not be typical of your gender. Children should be told that they are free to follow their interests, regardless of what gender norms are by practising that yourself at home, she said.
Do Not Limit Your Children’s Activities
Mr Jaggi asserted that it is important for children to know that they can do activities like sports, taking difficult subjects in school, cooking or cleaning that are typically associated with a particular gender. He said,
All children, regardless of biological sex, have the right to reach their full potential by learning whatever they want or participate in the sport of their choice or play with any toy.
Gender Neutral Parenting And Beware Of Gendered Marketing
Ms Shah stressed that parents must use more gender-neutral terms such as ‘police officer’ instead of ‘police man’ or ‘police woman’, ‘children’ or ‘kids’ instead of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, person instead of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ among others. When praising or disciplining your children, do not discriminate on the basis of their gender, she added. Along with using gender-neutral language, she emphasized on being careful while buying toys and games for children as these play important role in building a child’s personality and not get caught in the web of gendered marketing, she asserted.
Children’s toys and clothes are increasingly divided by gender as companies try to make profits by exploiting gender stereotype driven society. Give both girls and boys a wide range of toys to play with like building toys, dolls, cars. Give them games, puzzles, toys that are gender-neutral or show people in non-stereotypical roles like a female plumber or male nurse. Ungender the colours. Let your children choose the colours of their toys and clothes based on their liking. Do not impose Pink colour on girls and Blue on boys.
Avoid Gendered Media
According to Mr Jaggi, exposing children to non-stereotypical characters found in books, movies and other forms of media can redefine behaviour patterns and broaden their perspective towards other genders. For example, gendered media messages like men are aggressive, bulky and strong, or hypersexualised portrayal of women affect how individuals come to understand their gender from a young age. He said,
At a young age, children absorb information quickly as their brain is growing at a faster rate. Thus, it is vital that you help them access a variety of resources that do not drive gender stereotypes.
Encourage Children To Have Gender Diverse Friends
According to Mr Jaggi, it is important for children to learn how to develop social skills to communicate respectfully with their peers regardless of their gender. Not allowing children to mix up with gender-diverse kids may have negative implications like sexist attitudes toward people of other genders, he said.
Also Read: Adolescent Sexual Health: Parents, Teachers Need To Break The Cycle Of Silence Around Sex And Sexuality, Say Experts
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