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"How to Educate Children for Gender Equality"
An article for Seisen International School Parents and Guardians
It is the shared responsibility of parents and teachers alike to educate children for a better tomorrow, one that must include greater gender equality. The importance and necessity of gender equality is closely aligned with Seisen’s Mission and Vision, and we wish to enhance the shared understanding and commitment between the school and home communities.
Earlier this year, the International Women’s Day Committee at Seisen reached out to the parent community asking for feedback about International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day. Several parents in our community have asked for more information or support on how to model, encourage, educate, and parent their daughter/child in a way that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Research shows that the concept of gender in children forms between the ages of three and seven. During this early phase, children form an understanding of gender norms, identities and stereotypes. Altogether, this has a huge impact on children’s future lives, and shows the importance of starting this work with even our youngest of children.
Below, please find our suggestions for how you can start to educate your child for gender equality.
For Elementary/Kindergarten Age Girls:
- Use non-gendered toys/directed play objects. Young children learn gender stereotypes early on. Parents can challenge these stereotypes by giving children toys regardless of the gender of the child. For example, give trucks and cars to girls and dolls to boys. All play develops skills and competencies which are genderless and necessary - playing with dolls stimulates empathy and playing with cars develops spatial skills. (believe.earth)
- Encourage sport participation for all children regardless of gender. Many sports are traditionally considered masculine or feminine or are typically men- or women- dominated. Introduce your child to a wide variety of physical recreation regardless of the stereotypes associated with that sport. If your child shows interest in a particular sport, support their budding passions without regard to traditional gender associations.
- Teach children to understand and respect their bodies. It is natural for young boys and girls to be curious about their bodies. Talk to your child openly and without shame about various bodies and the wonderful things they can do. Ensure that your child knows how to set boundaries with their body - for instance, if they do not wish to hug someone, do not force them to. Instead, praise your child for voicing their boundary and respect and honor this boundary.
- Allow girls to be loud and boisterous. All children are sometimes loud and boisterous, not just boys. Girls should be allowed the same opportunities of constructive self expression as boys, rather than being trained to be meek and obedient. Challenge the outdated notion of ‘lady-like’ behavior.
For Middle School/High School Girls:
- Teach your daughter to advocate for herself. People who know their needs and rights are more likely to ask for them to be met. Support your child as she voices her needs and listen to her and respect her when she advocates for herself to you as her parent.
- Teach girls how to protect and stand up for themselves. This may mean enrolling them in a basic self-defense course or talking to them about how to travel safely. It could also mean teaching them who to go to for help if needed, and how to keep evidence. Teach conflict de-escalation and build their self confidence in general.
- Compliment your daughter about things other than her physical appearance. Too often girls learn to gain their self worth from their physical appearance rather than the strength of their character. For example, “You are courageous,” “You are brilliant,'' “You are compassionate” are stronger compliments than “Your hair looks good today.” This is not to say that you cannot compliment physical beauty, only that it shouldn’t be the most often noticed attribute. Also, be specific with your compliments and praise - this shows that you are taking notice of your child and will also allow her to continue the specific positive actions or behaviours.
- Encourage university and career paths that suit. Allow your child to follow her passions and interests into a meaningful and fulfilling career regardless of whether those career paths are typically considered suitable or profitable for women. For example, many female pioneers, especially in math and science fields, were discouraged from pursuing their vocations, yet the world is better for the contributions they made to these fields.
- Teach boys about body autonomy and affirmative consent. Here are some good resources to help you with this: Pantosaurus from NSPCC (for young children), Amaze.org, teachconsent.org, eduTopia “Teaching Consent to Elementary Children”, Consent Fries, Tea Consent (using tea as an analogy).
- Talk to your son about Toxic Masculinity, how to recognize it, respond to it, and how to avoid playing into it. Here is a good resource from the New York Times to learn more about toxic masculinity. Let your son know it’s okay to cry and talk about how he can express feelings of sadness, fear and disappointment. Let him know it’s healthy to talk about feelings and to ask for help. (houseofwellness.com.au)
- Encourage career and life paths that may not be traditionally ‘masculine’. For example, being a stay-at-home dad or a house husband, nurse, or early childhood teacher.
- Teach boys that they are responsible for their own actions. Often women are taught to avoid “the male gaze” and “distracting boys.” However, this narrative teaches that women are responsible for the actions of men which can lead to the dangerous assumptions that women are “asking for it”. Instead, teach boys to reflect on and own the consequences of their actions.
- Teach boys to be an ally. This could be as big as standing up for the rights and dignity of all women, or could be as simple as teaching them how to be empathetic when women are experiencing period symptoms. Check out the #HeforShe movement to learn more.
- Role model balance in relationships. Children learn about relationships by watching their guardians, so having a good model of how to divide household responsibilities and childcare, and navigate conflict can help young people learn how to ask for and give respect in relationships.
- Make conscious choices not to play into stereotypes. For example, if mom is upset, do not immediately blame it on hormones or say she is being “dramatic” or “too sensitive”, but rather legitimize those feelings and model working through them.
- Challenge/avoid stereotypes in everyday situations. For example, instead of saying “I need a tall/strong man to help me with this,” simply say that you need help or an extra set of hands.
- Reflect on your choice of language. Often we are unaware of our own biases which pop up unconsciously, especially in our language. Using phrases such as “man up” or “acting like a girl” perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. Replace these phrases with something more supportive and affirming, such as “feeling scared.”
- Learn to be an attentive listener. Many young people understand and express more about gender stereotypes and inequality than many adults give them credit for. Being a good listener to what they are sharing and be open to learning something new or changing your perspective. By showing that you can listen respectfully, your child is more likely to come to you for help/advice in the future.
- Challenge unrealistic portrayals of men and women in the media. For example, you can use magazine ads with impossibly muscled shirtless men or impossibly thin women as a starting point for a conversation about beauty standards and pressures. (edition.cnn.com)
- Never let gender be an excuse for your child’s actions. The old saying about “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls” can lead to harmful understandings or standards of acceptable behavior for all genders. (edition.cnn.com)
- Role model gender equality in the workplace through your own life and career. Many Seisen parents are in positions of power in their respective careers and can use it to influence equal opportunity hiring and amplifying women’s voices.
- Volunteer/Practice Community Service. Get involved in local charities or groups that support women, and in doing so you can role model solidarity. Some local organizations of interest include ＃みんなの生理 (Minna no seiri), Women’s Action Network (WAN), National Women’s Education Center (NWEC) (including links to additional non-profits), Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center (AJWRC), and Working Women’s Network (WWN).
- Educate yourself. Learn more about human rights in general and Sustainable Development Goal #5 in particular. The more you know, the better you can help your child learn more as well.
Click here for more resources on teaching kids about gender equality.