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Gender-Neutral Language – What is it?

“Good morning Darling Myra, you look like a beautiful princess today”.

“Hello Atta boy Ruhaan, I like your baseball cap, Dude”

These are some “harmless” remarks which sometimes our teachers pass on to children. We usually don’t see the harm in such statements, but these innocent phrases sometimes lay the foundation for gender differentiation among children.

VEGA Schools, a PBL school in Gurgaon, believe that educational institutions are potentially powerful agents of change and social transformation. We are fair in giving equal opportunities and avenues to both girls and boys resulting in equal participation and achievements.

According to Unicef, 5.9 million girls are out of school as compared to 5.5 million boys. To know more, read, and visit Unicef.org.

The fact that children in many preschools spend a large amount of their time inside the campus with their Learning leaders and classmates, it becomes all the more important for the schools to look out for things that may inadvertently perpetuate gender stereotypes.

How can we effectively inculcate gender sensitization in the classroom?

1) Address our Gender prejudices: Teachers, we need to reflect on our prejudices first.

  • Do we have different academic expectations from girls and boys?
  • Do we feel that girls may not score well in maths or sports whereas boys have a phobia with subjects like English literature or home science and activities like dress up or drawing?
  • Do we feel uncomfortable while addressing issues like sex education, good touch-bad touch, naming the private parts of the human body?
  • Are we comfortable with words like transgender or gender non-conforming students?
  • Do we treat boys and girls equally?

These biases can either explicitly or implicitly influence our classroom behavior with our children. Children learn and mimic us and will internalize gender-stereotyped behavior, which in turn contributes to their understanding of gender and their ideas of women and men’s capabilities.

2) Space for open, safe, and equal communication: Instead of providing our boys and girls different learning opportunities and feedback, the classroom environment should be such that students shall feel equally able to take part in communication. Children should feel safe in sharing who they are and what their choices are, how they want to connect with the Learning leaders and their classmates, how they feel about their friends, and how they want to learn.

When both boys and girls are given the same opportunities to speak up or the same responsibilities to do a task, it creates an environment of equality and respect.

So let’s allow John to bring his favorite doll to class and motivate him for a “show and tell” on his beloved toy. Vega Schools being one of the safe schools in Gurgaon focuses on having a friendly environment. 

3) Avoiding segregation of children by gender: There are some classic examples where we have consciously segregated children into teams or queues by gender.

                         “Boys make one line, girls make another line”

                          “Let’s make a team of 5 boys and 5 girls”

                          “Girls will sit at the front while boys will stand at the back”

These seating arrangements and group segregation sometimes facilitate gender biases by giving importance to “gender” as a tool to label children.

Instead, we have to break up this “only boys” or “only girls” notion and create a rather dynamic grouping arrangement where both the genders feel comfortable to engage with each other. 

4) Use of gender-neutral language and responses: At the end of the day, it’s the language that matters the most. Our children, especially in preschools will closely monitor the words we use while communicating with them, and they in turn will adopt similar languages.

“Good morning Children” will be more impactful than “Good morning boys and girls”.

Similarly, a slight tweak in our responses to gender-related topics can have long-lasting effects on these young impressionable minds and motivate them to think beyond gender.

So “army man” can be addressed as Army personnel or a “policeman “can be addressed as “Police officer”.

We need to also stop stereotyping gender traits by using phrases like “How come you don’t want to participate in sports being a boy” or “Boys should have short hair” or “girls don’t fight“

How students perceive themselves and how they project their role in society is shaped to some extent by what they experience at school.

5) Using PBL for Non-gendered projects and activities: Vega schools, is one of the top schools in Gurgaon that practice ‘problem-based learning’ pedagogy. PBL, when integrated with gender progressive education will help children understand the nuance of individual behavior rather than stereotyping boys and girls.

It can be achieved in many ways:

  • Giving assignments that will include characters of males and females doing specific roles that are otherwise associated with a particular gender.
  • Mixing boys and girls in small groups to work on a “problem”
  • Children can practice reading and writing activities on themes related to their gender identity and behaviors.

This will develop a nuanced view of the potentially harmful nature stereotypes and help them see themselves as authors with the potential for standing up against detrimental gender injustice.

6) Monitoring children’s behavior at every step: Learning leaders will always have to keep their eyes and ears open while interacting with children inside or outside classrooms. Some children carry their prejudices from the external environment, mainly parents. As a result, they tend to behave or react in a specific manner that may not be acceptable. So next time if we hear a child saying “hey you are a girl, we won’t include you in the team” or “ man up” or “don’t cry like a girl”, it is very important to intervene right then and point out the social and moral implications of such statements (with examples).

It is more important to have “CLEAR RULES”.

7) Including gender-neutral literature: Since our childhood, we have grown up reading fairy tale books where the Knight in shining armor comes to rescue the damsel in distress. Isn’t it? Does it make any sense in today’s time? Of course not! 

Gender stereotypes in children’s books are very common and as educational institutions, we must revolutionize what we teach and how we teach. It’s time we need to select books in our libraries that have a message where children can look at the character as an individual and not any gender.

The king cannot kiss the sleeping beauty without her consent and a poor girl doesn’t need a pair of glass shoes to change her destiny!

8) Empowering our girls: While gender equality stands for empowering both our boys and girls, we also have to accept the fact that there are still lesser women in all the leadership and management roles in India.

So it’s high time we not only have to tell our girls that “you can do it” but also show them “how it’s done”.

  • Feature women speakers who have pursued a variety of careers(even non-traditional ones) to show that girls really can achieve their dreams in diverse industries
  • Arrange for mentorship with alumni women leaders in the community.
  • Encourage them to speak up and report against any kind of bullying or abuse against them in school, or bus, or even at home.

We have to develop and nurture leadership and initiative among children so that they can prevent gender-based violence and promote gender equity in their own lives.

9) Gender equality doesn’t mean “Male bashing”: Sometimes there is a fine line between gender equality and challenging the patriarchal society. As learning leaders, we must not always target our boys and put them in our scrutiny radar. 

Not all boys are aggressive, not all boys love jumping around the class, not all boys prefer football. Let’s stop expecting our boys to behave in a particular way because they may perceive them as someone else. Let’s not be ruthless and stricter towards boys or blame them for all the mischief that happens in the school.

10) Collaboration with Parents: “Collaboration” is one of the core values of Vega Schools. To achieve our goal to dissociate with gender inequality, we must work in association with parents to show our children that their aspirations are not influenced by gender. It’s mandatory to inform our children’s family to maintain the continuity of gender equality education even at home.

  • Keep them up-to-date with the ongoing activities happening in class that talks about gender stereotypes.
  • Connect with parents of children who may have some deeply rooted prejudices and discuss the root cause.
  • Get feedback from them on any difference they may notice about their children and their behavior with boys and girls.

Gender Equality is no more just a fundamental right, but it’s the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable future world, to be run by our now little children. So school education becomes the right place to facilitate mind-set change in a whole generation of boys and girls. Children need to grow without prejudices, to create a more equitable and inclusive society. With a little effort, the impact can go a long way.

We at Vega Schools are always open to hearing you out. Please feel free to contact us.

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