With International Women’s Day (IWD) being celebrated worldwide this month, I was prompted to reflect on the early childhood sector’s role in the fight for gender equality. The theme for this year’s IWD was “I choose to challenge”.
As unionists, many of us are drawn to challenging bias and stereotypes within our pedagogy.
As we know, prescriptive gender roles and stereotypes can inhibit children’s self-expression.
An example of this in practice; children sitting together eating lunch and one child comments “Oh they have a pink lunch box, they must be a girl.” I questioned this child’s thinking and we talked through this with the other child whose lunchbox it was. We concluded together that colour choice and preference should have nothing to do with whether someone is a boy or a girl. As the success of the AFLW has shown us, girls and women can enjoy and be successful at many interests and activities that, in the past, might have been lazily labelled as “boy’s things”. Likewise, a recent study from Cardiff University showed that boys who were allowed to play with dolls developed the region of their brain associated with empathy, as it encouraged them to think about other people and how they might interact with each other. These little moments of discussion and discovery can be so powerful in disrupting harmful gender stereotypes.
For many of us, this fight for equality does not stop when we leave our classrooms. Within the union movement, there is a growing number of women and allied men who are looking to change the conversation about equality. Instead of simply demanding that things change and are made fairer for working women, they are asking why are things not equal? Why do women still disproportionately earn less than their male counterparts? Why do women retire into poverty because of inadequate superannuation balances? Why isn’t free early education and care universally provided? Why are women still facing so many obstacles in their working lives?
As a sector, we are well placed to continue to provoke discussion and debate about gender stereotypes with the children we teach by using anti-bias teaching practices to instil a foundation of respect and equality for all.