Societies around the world have traditionally evolved and functioned around concepts of gender-based roles and responsibilities. Within most societies, the men are considered breadwinners, and the women as caregivers and homemakers. Though these defined gender-based roles started to provide communities with a functional format, over time these seem to have been put into airtight compartments that are not functional anymore as per the requirement of the present society. It is thus important for students to realise that every individual has their own unique qualities, aptitude, interests and life views, and to be able to realise one’s true potential, one cannot always remain within the confines of these strict gender stereotypes.
There are many ways in which children can be made aware of what gender stereotypes are:
One of the effective ways is to discuss how media and society sets expectations based on gender. For example, the advertisements mostly show men going to the office and the women cooking in the kitchen, or the women serving everyone meals and then eating at the end themselves. The media sometimes also shows that the decisions for women should be taken by men of the household and that men must always display being strong and powerful.
By openly discussing such stereotypes, the discussion can then be steered toward the harmful outcomes of such ideas for society. For example, gender bias deprives many talented girls of higher education opportunities or the exposure to grow into financially independent members of society. Men on the other hand are put under emotional and psychological stress by the societal expectation that they should not share their weaknesses or emotional aspects and must at all times appear stern and bossy. Both men and women lose out on expressing their true selves under such situations, and it puts them into compartments rather than helping them grow into fulfilled and happy individuals.
Within homes and schools, empathetic discussions on gender stereotypes and their consequences should be discussed early on in a child’s life and they need to be encouraged to break free from such restricting ideas and realise their individuality:
- Exploring gender stereotypes through stories:
Through stories of real men and women who have taken up professions that are considered not fit for their gender, or through make-believe cartoon characters the student can be taught how they can realise what interests them, pursue that field and get satisfaction in what they do. Otherwise, the general societal norms will keep most girls uninterested in science-based professions and discourage boys from taking up school teaching jobs, which are considered appropriate for women. The stories can also bring forth the fact that facial beauty is not the only important thing for girls and being macho does not mean men need to subjugate women.
- Exploring gender stereotypes through art:
Art can be a great equaliser when it comes to exploring, discussing and breaking gender biases. Through theatre, painting, sculpture and music, students can be encouraged to spread the message for a more equal society for both men and women, boys and girls.
- Breaking gender stereotypes:
Once the students are involved in discussions and debating about what constitutes gender expectations, they must also be shown the positive ways to break free of excessively restricting and damaging gender definitions. This can be achieved in school by giving the same roles and responsibilities to both boys and girls; e.g. both can clean the classroom, set tables at cultural events, lead the event and manage teams. There can be an equal representation of boys and girls on the student council, and each student should be encouraged to adopt a stream of education that they like without the fear of societal expectations.
At Ekya, we break gender stereotypes by giving similar responsibilities to both girls and boys, inducting an equal number of boys and girls within the student council and holding debates and discussions on topics such as gender equality and equal pay for equal work. Conclusively, through open dialogue and by showcasing examples of gender inclusivity and respect, Ekya plays an important role in helping the educational, psychological and social growth of children.