Von Natalia Jevdjenicova
“Gender mainstreaming is a strategy pursued to achieve gender equality in society based on equal structures, settings and conditions for both women and men. Women and men are to enjoy the life they themselves determine.” This is the definition of gender mainstreaming found on the website of the City of Vienna. Gender stereotypes start to be implanted in our heads in a very early age. Maybe even earlier you would think. It starts already in Kindergarten. For Kindergartens of The city of Vienna this isn’t the case anymore.
I was lucky to get the chance to discover this topic on my own as a university project. The research methods we used in our research project were two interviews and an observation. The first interview was done with the responsible person from The city of Vienna for the kindergartens and the second interview and the observation were done directly in one of the kindergartens of the city of Vienna. One of the limitation regarding this method was the fact, that we got to do the observation and the interview only in one kindergarten, therefore we weren’t able to compare the work of multiple kindergartens of The city of Vienna in the area of gender mainstreaming.
Actually the City of Vienna is doing a great job in the area of gender mainstreaming. Let me take you on the shortened version of the tour I got myself, as I visited this particular kindergarten in the 15th district. The very first thing we saw, as we were looking at the rooms was, that there were no typical corners with dolls for the girls and corners with building blocks for the boys. You don’t feel the need to give a gender to the toys you see, they are all made for all. The next thing we noticed, that the colors of the walls are all in pastel shades, so all really gender-neutral and there weren’t really walls painted in pink or blue as we would be used to. Also all the toilets are gender-neutral.
The kindergarten in the 15th districts uses a lot of methods to overcome gender stereotypes. They’ve also been inspired by the “education box”, which is offered by the city of Vienna as a little guide how to prevent gender stereotypes.
One of the gender neutral materials this kindergarten we visited used, was the most traditional one – books. Books are really important in the child’s development and the stories that are read to the children really strongly influence their development and what they consider to be normal and acceptable and what not. So the importance of gender neutral books can’t be stressed enough.
From are interview with the director of this Kindergarten in the 15th district, we found out, that the children are also active in the technical area. There are a few technical toys as the “BEE-BOT” und the “Maus”, which were actually created for the sake gender mainstreaming. The idea behind them was, that everybody – despite of gender, should be able to learn how to program. With this idea the gender inequalities in the technical field should be disestablished.
But where do these stereotypes actually come from ? When we already live in an age where preschool education is doing its best work to prevent gender stereotypes, how come they are still here? Our interview partner, the director of the kindergarten we visited thinks, that they are primary formed at the most obvious place – at home. The parents are of course role models and the most natural source of opinions. During the interview the director told us a story about a boy, who was playing with a ironer when his father came to pick him up. The father was shocked and he told the kindergarten teacher, that it’s not acceptable for his son to play with an ironer, because men aren’t supposed to use an ironer. This is a pretty extreme example and as the director said herself. Things like this happen very rarely, but they still sometimes do. So how are we supposed to prevent gender stereotypes and create an equal society where we can raise our children not to think in gender stereotypes? As great the program of the kindergartens of the city of Vienna is, there is a step which is supposed to be done and not with the children but with the parents. I would suggest to offer classes about the importance preventing gender stereotypes for parents and future parents.
Another aspect, which is very important, when it comes to gender mainstreaming in the area of kindergarten is parents participation. We are used to the fact, that mostly it is the mother who brings and picks up the children from the kindergarten and she is also the one, who deals with the organizational matter. A group of people, who are changing this stereotype in Austria are immigrants, as our interview partner says. Most of the time women are staying at home after the family moved countries and the men goes to work. Therefore the man is forced to learn German as soon as possible, while the women mostly isn’t. An interesting thing, that can be observed here is also, that the man is the one who communicates with the kindergarten – because he is the one who is able to. The city of Vienna is trying to balance out this situation and help the women with offering German classes for a little fee. This program is called “Mum learns German”.
As I already mentioned, The city of Vienna is doing a great job in the area of gender mainstreaming and I wish it would be like this all around the world. As a future journalist, I would try my best to make this great work of the City of Vienna in the area of gender mainstreaming more visible in the media. The only thing I would add to the program, is not just to educate the teachers, but also to educate the parents and a wider public about the importance of preventing gender stereotypes.