Today, March 8th is International Women's Day (IWD), and the theme this year is #BeBoldForChange. IWD was established to inspire everyone to help forge a better, more inclusive gender-equal world, by raising awareness and organising concrete action.
The World Economic Forum predicts that, as the world currently stands, the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186. Australia currently ranks 46 out of 144 countries for gender equality – with education achieving full parity, but political empowerment and economic participation still with significant improvements to be made.
So, what can we do to promote gender equality in our children's world, and build a future that is more inclusive and balanced than today?
The normalisation of ugly language, bullying and the degrading representation of women that has been in the press recently amidst the US election is troubling, but we can take steps to ensure that our children do not grow up to see this is acceptable or normal. Parents can offset negative rhetoric by reminding children that demeaning and abusive words are not okay. Hearing that world leaders get away with behaving badly towards women contradicts the idea that the world is fair and bad behaviour is punished and it's important for parents to stand up and offset this messaging, explaining that there are injustices in the world, but that doesn't give anyone the right to behave unjustly.
By teaching our children to respect others, and by leading by example – ensuring our own rhetoric and our treatment of others is respectful and positive – parents can still keep consistent messaging in their own community and children will see that as the norm.
In this digital world, where children live out their lives via Instagram posts and status updates, body image and gender stereotypes seem to now invade life from an early age. Again, as parents, we can shift the way girls are spoken to and how boys treat girls by challenging stereotypes and ensuring everyone is treated equally.
As Hilary Clinton said: "…to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."
There is plenty we can do in our children's lives, to address these differences:
- Challenge stereotypes when using examples, such as female fire fighter and male nurse.
- Treat children equally – girls can carry things; boys can cook.
- Aim to use gender-neutral language – girls are strong and deserving, not pretty and weak.
- Encourage gender-challenging activities – boys could try gymnastics, girls could try soccer.
- Encourage mixed gender play dates and play groups.
- Avoid phrases such as 'you run like a girl', or 'she's only a girl'. If these comments do arise, question and challenge their reasoning, using examples of successful women.
Keep kids connected
It's natural for parents to want to disconnect kids from the world. But in such an information-driven environment, kids today need more information, not less. Discuss what they hear, maintain open conversation and reassure and empower them with education and knowledge. Encourage your children to ask questions, and help them seek the answers. They will be the next generation that continues the campaign for equality. Whether and how they do that is up to those that care for them and guide them today.
We can teach them to check facts, question statements, and seek their own opinion, and know the values of right and wrong. With these skills they will be able to work towards a society that values the rights of everyone equally.