Gender equality begins from early childhood education

Bild: © Bogdana Kobzan

Von Bogdana Kobzan

While societies around the world have solved several important problems, the problem of women’s inequality has not been significantly solved. Especially in East Asian countries, women are still being considered as property. In developing countries, women often cannot access basic and higher education, and in Europe, women still have fewer opportunities for economic participation and get less political representation than men. Women are underrepresented even in the media, the media industry and in media coverage. According to the results of the Global Media Monitoring Project (2015:1), they „make up only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news…“ Sadly, the media has been and probably will remain dominated by men, who hold the vast majority of power positions in the industry.  

This example shows that the biggest challenge that women face in the 21st century remains gender inequality. As a young women myself, I face such gender issues in my daily life. Therefore, I decided to act on them instead of waiting until something will change. I decided to take part in the „Gender Mainstreaming“ course for two reasons. First, I wanted to become more aware of the issue myself, and second, through my project, I wanted to raise awareness and motivation amongst other people. 

So, what do we know about „Gender Mainstreaming“? 

Most people think that Gender Mainstreaming means gender equality. Gender Mainstreaming, however, is an approach that tries to achieve gender equality between women and men. Calvo (2013: 28) summarised it as a strategy to integrate gender equality into „all systems and structures, policies, programmes, processes, and projects, as well as into ways of seeing and doing and into cultures and their organisations“  

For our group project, I had the opportunity to work for the City of Vienna, which has set an inspirational example regarding the gender mainstreaming concept. In my research, I focused on a child care issue, as I believe that education in gender equality should already begin in early childhood years. Early childhood is a very important developmental stage in a person’s life. From the earliest years, girls and boys learn how to behave, and which societal roles they should perform through parents, caregivers and teachers. 

Presumably, many girls and boys of my own and of previous generations were subject to such an antiquated upbringing. Certainly, while growing up, we become aware of gender equality issues, but our early childhood impressions will, nevertheless, affect us for the rest of our lives. Through the years, gender attitudes have improved due to global concepts such as „Gender Mainstreaming“. This creates more possibilities for our children or for future generations to receive a gender-sensitive and gender-equal upbringing, which in turn will promote gender equality even further.  

The City of Vienna already uses some of these methods to overcome traditional stereotypes and to promote gender mainstreaming. Through an observation in a public kindergarten of the City of Vienna, our project group realized early that the way we imagined child-care differed significantly from the modern gender-equal child-care at the kindergarten. The kindergarten’s gender-sensitive early childhood education is based on a concept for staff, a concept for space, as well as educational and parental guidelines (City of Vienna, “Gender Mainstreaming”). The kindergarten, for instance, has no typical corners for girls to play with dolls or boys to play with wooden building blocks. Instead, the toys were strategically placed for girls and boys to play together. Certain activities are no longer limited to one room, and thus the children can move around freely in all areas. Children are given equal opportunities to choose their toys and games based on their individual interests and skills – not on expectations based on their sex or gender.  

Despite these positive achievements in child care, the City of Vienna is still facing a lack of male care-involvement in early childhood education. According to recent research, male kindergarten teachers make up only 1 % of kindergarten teachers in Austria. For this reason, the City of Vienna started to promote a campaign to recruit more male teachers for Viennese kindergartens.  

This example of implementing gender mainstreaming in early childhood kindergarten education is not representative for all kindergartens in Vienna, however. In fact, few kindergartens follow this concept, although the situation is slowly improving. The City of Vienna is acutely aware of this situation. The first important steps, however, have already been taken on the long road to gender equality in child care institutions.  

Finally, the media can significantly impact our understanding of how important gender mainstreaming is in a modern society. As I have emphasized above, the inadequate representation of women in media production and coverage needs to improve. As a media professional and working mother, these issues made me think more critically about my future challenges. One can only hope that women’s position in the media will improve in the future – it absolutely has to. But who will make sure that it actually will improve? The task of raising awareness lies with us, as future female journalists. We have the power to raise more awareness, impact policies in the media industry, our work place, and change the way we are portrayed in the media and society at large.  


Sources

Anon. 2015. Global Media Monitoring Project: Who makes the news? Available at http://whomakesthenews.org/gmmp/gmmp-reports/gmmp-2015-reports accessed 03 February 2020. 

 Calvo, D. (2013). What is the problem of gender? Mainstreaming gender in migration and development policies in the European Union (PDF) (Doctoral Dissertation). Gothenburg: Department of Sociology and Work Science accessed 03 February 2020 

City of Vienna . “Gender Mainstreaming” available at: 

https://www.wien.gv.at/english/administration/gendermainstreaming/examples/kindergarten.html accessed 02 February 2020  

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