The damaging impact of entrenched ideas of gender has been overlooked because these days, girls outperform boys in exams. This success masks a real problem: from the moment they are born, our children are fed gendered expectations about their future life that undermine our ability to make progress. This has to change. Many schools and teachers are at the forefront of this debate, but there are too many places where gender assumptions remain unchallenged.
By focusing on the environment in which our children are raised, we can make progress on every one of our other goals. We can teach our children to challenge what they see in the media. We can teach mutual respect in sexual relationships and tackle the underlying causes of violence against women and girls. We can show boys as well as girls that caring for others does not make you weak, and start to set an expectation of shared parenting for the next generation. We can use our nurseries and schools as engine rooms for possibility, inspiring young women and men to achieve their full potential, free from gendered expectations about the life they should lead.
WE stand for:
Beyond pink and blue: the earliest conceptions of gender
Girls need to know they can be astronauts and train drivers as well as fairies and princesses, and that it doesn’t matter whether they want to do it in pink sparkles or blue checks. Boys, too, can be liberated by letting go of the gender rules. Our sons can learn to care for a doll or express emotion without fear of mockery.
Equal opportunities in teaching and school leadership
Nurseries and primary schools are overwhelmingly dominated by women, building an expectation among young children that looking after and educating them is not work for men. At both primary and secondary school level, men are far more likely than women to be in senior leadership roles, embedding the equally troubling assumption that men should lead and women follow. While many schools do an excellent job of challenging those assumptions, all need to show gender equality in practice as well as teaching their pupils about it.
Sex and relationships education
There is a taboo around sex and relationships education which means many politicians dare not raise it for fear of being attacked. The tone of the debate has made it incredibly difficult to make progress from our bizarre set of rules where the mechanics of sex are taught in science lessons by specialist teachers – but vital discussions about relationships, consent and sexually transmitted diseases are reserved for optional lessons elsewhere in the curriculum, and taught by those with little or no expertise. It is reckless and cruel to continue to ask our children to navigate the complexities of sexting, revenge porn and sexual consent with so little support.