Gender roles and societal expectations and beliefs for girls and boys are transmitted through verbal and non-verbal language from an early age.
It is difficult for a child to grow up without some form of gender bias and expectations, whether it be messages that boys are better than girls at science or that it is a woman’s job to nurture her children. In most cultures, even as babies, sons and daughters are treated differently – dressed in gender-specific colours, and given gender-specific toys. The messages and cues that children receive in the home and in their community are often reinforced by children’s peers, by the media and the television, and even in their school experience.
Recently, at the 5th International Conference on Language and Education: Sustainable Development through Multilingual Education (link is external), I shared about how opportunities for children to promote gender equality need to start at an early age. My Early Childhood Education Development centre in Jakarta is aiming to do this.
In my centre we aim to provide a gender-responsive environment, with stories, songs and other visual materials that are free from stereotypes. All learners are encouraged to use all toys. Girls play with trucks in the sandpit, boys feed baby dolls, or vice-versa. We teach children to be themselves, and to imaging what they can become – a leader, a hero, and a problem-solver, for example.
We aim to create a safe space where both boys and girls can thrive, and children can express themselves, where everyone is equal, cared for and respected. We give equal time and value to girls’ and boys’ experience and feelings, and are taking some first steps on the path to gender equality.