In Depth Society, 21/06/2019

Breaking Glass Ceiling: Gender-Sensitive Approach

In a rapidly changing world, it is not easy to choose the right way of raising a child. The traditional divisions into girls’ and boys’ worlds have been smashed. Nowadays, leadership, responsibility and emotional intelligence are indispensable qualities of a person of the 21st century.

How can the conditions for equal opportunities for both sexes be created?

This can be achieved by the introduction of gender equality in education. To this end, in January 2018, the Governmental Committee for Social Policy and Humanitarian Development supported the project resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine “On Approving the Strategy for the Implementation of Gender Equality in Education” ‘Education: Gender Dimension – 2021’.”

The Strategy aims to ensure the comprehensive introduction of the gender equality principles in education and to identify gender approach criteria in this area in accordance with the world’s democratic principles. In particular, the document provides for the expansion of the practice of incorporating a gender component in educational programs and focuses on development and prospects for gender equality.

How has gender-sensitive educational space been implemented in the Kharkiv region?

In order to create gender-sensitive educational space, the Krona Gender and Analytical Center started gender educational experiment in January 2015 in eight schools of the Kharkiv region. The project aims to create space without gender stereotypes and discriminations.

Work on the experiment was conducted in several directions simultaneously. All started with training sessions for school and kindergarten teachers. In general, about 30 training courses were carried out and almost all of them based in educational institutions, which was a crucial aspect for the team.

Subsequently, in each school, creative groups of 4-5 people conducted a gender audit of their own educational institutions. It helped identify bottlenecks concerning gender issues at school and find recommendations for positive changes.

As part of the experiment, a gender analysis of the entire wall mounted space of the experimental educational institutions such as informational boards, stands, posters were defined as stereotypical or discriminatory. Olha Andrusik in her article “School Visual Space is Gender Trap” considers that gender segregation usually prevails in visual school space. Boys and girls are involved in it differently, almost always separately and, as a rule, based on gender stereotypes: while boys “rotate the Earth,” girls are shown as “quiet” and housewives. Boys are depicted as more visible, active and strong while girls are usually considered invisible, passive, weak-willed and non-independent.

As a result, the influence of the visual space on the child will also be gender differentiated. From childhood, girls get used to playing second fiddle, not to be particularly active, not to take risks and to be obedient. They are more likely to avoid unpleasant incidents, but it will be harder for them to succeed in life and they will have less ability to act in an irregular situation having such a foundation. It’s quite another matter with boys: a constant focus on achievements, research activity, being prepared to take risks, most likely will affect their lives positively, but for the same reason the likelihood of boys facing extreme life hazards is unreasonably high.

As a result of the analysis, the first gender-sensitive wall-mounted informative posters in Ukraine appeared in educational institutions. All of the projects were developed directly by the efforts of teachers during inter-school creative gender workshops. The first portrayals are available on the Krona’s website.

As part of the program, the Museum on Wheels innovative pilot project was implemented by the Centre of Gender Culture thanks to a partnership with the Krona Gender and Analytical Center. It aimed to present part of the Gender Museum collection to schoolchildren and teachers of eight schools in the Kharkiv region and to increase their level of gender sensitivity and gender culture. In total, during the project implementation, about 100 tours for teachers, parents and students from age 9 to 18 were conducted, and 1,905 people participated in them. They were carried out in non-stop mode and built on the principle of dialogue conversation by involving children and adults in finding answers to various questions about gender issues.

“The museum’s arrival caused excitement not only among students, teachers’ and staff but also among parents, towns and nearby villages’ residents. The exhibits included eight art and photo projects including “Women’s Room,” “Women’s Face of War,” “Gender in Pictures,” “Women in the Army,” “Being a Father is …,” “Gender through the Eyes of Children,” “Torture for Women” and others. In total, about 200 exhibits such as children’s drawings, photos, panoramas of social roles, books for kids, posters and household items were consolidated and displayed in blocks according to a specially designed concept of conducting study tours, taking into account age characteristics,” noted Oleh Marushchenko, the project’s coordinator.

To formulate the experiment, sociological studies concerning views of teachers and students’ opinions were conducted. In addition to positive trends, the project team also faced some problems.

“What prevented our work? Actually, there was and is only a systemic resistance. That is, the school as an organization does not really want to change,” Oleh Marushchenko added.

However, the problems did not prevent to conduct the gender educational experiment.

There is a stereotype that boys are gifted in exact sciences while girls are usually humanitarians. Girls STEM project aims to break this stereotype.

STEM is an abbreviation of Science, Technology (Information Technology and Technology), Engineering (Robotics and 3D Modeling) and Mathematics.

Girls STEM is an all-Ukrainian program focusing on increasing the number of girls in technology careers. Over the last three years, a lot of initiatives have been carried out, including a hackathon mentoring program for girls and teachers. Following numerous participants’ requests, organizers and partners of the program initiated the creation of an extensive network of #Girls’ Network branches throughout Ukraine. From now on, every girl who is interested in technological specialties will be able to join the STEM-branch in her own educational institution, implement STEM projects and create a network of gifted girls in her city, town or village.

As part of the initiative, participants will be able to organize a variety of educational activities aimed at eliminating gender stereotypes in career choices and help female students to implement their own STEM projects.

The program was organized under support of Corporate Social Responsibility Ukraine, The CSR Development Center expert organization, with the support of UNFPA Ukraine, the United Nations Population Fund in Ukraine and the Institute for the Modernization of Educational Content.

How to create gender-sensitive space in a society which decides gender roles at birth?

According to journalist Oksana Bilyk, businesses and public opinion start to divide things into girls’ and boys’ even before the child’s birth, when future parents find out the sex of their child and start to buy things for their baby.

The idea to separate colors for girls and boys originated in the USA about 100 years ago to increase sales. Since 1940, blue has been considered as a boys’ color and pink solely as girls’. This concept didn’t much affect the Soviet generation who were brought up in a difficult era as it was hard to buy any clothes due to shortfall and parents did not mind the colors of clothes they bought for their kids.

“But after the collapse of the USSR, we quickly followed European and American parents, and if in the 1990s children were dressed mostly according to financial means without taking color into account, then 10 years further on in the 2000’s observing from afar, it was almost impossible to mistake child’s gender as boys have been dressed mostly in blue and girls in pink, respectively,” Oksana Bilyk continues.

Gender Museum’s director Tetiana Isaieva looks back to the 1980s when she could easily buy clothes of any color for her daughter but it was a problem to choose something other than pink for her granddaughter who was born in the 2000s.

It is worth mentioning that the problem of colors associations goes far beyond the limits of personal taste. Dressing girls in light colors means that adults can control them more than boys. They constantly watch girls and won’t allow them to jump into pools or climb trees as that will make the clothes dirty. While wearing dark colors, boys can easily play in the dirt or have fun in the rain.

Marketing of toys’, books’, cartoons’ and children’s events’ color are still largely presented as pink and blue, being major factors in attracting a particular audience. As a result, girls subconsciously believe that pink is their favorite color, although most of them have no chance to think differently.

The same situation occures with other things that are gender associated in the public view. Traditionally, girls play with dolls and boys are keen on toy cars, constructor sets or railways. Some parents try to break stereotypes and let boys play with dolls or girls play with constructor sets. Adults just give a choice to their kids, listen to their wishes and don’t put gender boundaries on them. If you want to build something – you should do it, maybe you are a future architect. If you want to make jewelry – probably you can become a jeweler? If a child wants to swaddle and feed baby dolls, he or she might probably become a pediatrician or a kindergarten teacher. Gender does not matter.

Unfortunately, manufacturers and sellers of children’s toys think differently. Although, there are no signs like “toys for girls” and “toys for boys,” the color scheme, the image of boys or girls on packages or advice from shop-assistant create and maintain a gender distribution.

However, some producers compromise and design constructor toys for girls and dolls for boys to cover the new target audience.

For example, GoldieBlox is a disruptive children’s media company challenging gender stereotypes with the world’s first girl engineer character. Through the integration of storytelling and STEM principles, GoldieBlox is building a global character franchise with videos, animation, books, apps, curriculum and merchandise; the tools that empower girls to build their confidence, dreams and ultimately, their futures. The girl who has such a toy can build a lighthouse, a cable car, a skate park and play with a doll, dressed in a work overall with a set of tools on the belt.

Unfortunately, the situation with children’s books also needs improvement. Gender Museum’s director Tetiana Isaieva showed Kharkiv Observer correspondent a series of books including encyclopedias for boys and girls that have been in print since 2002.

The first thing that catches your attention is a books’ color. Boys’ books are traditionally blue while girls’ books are pink.

When we open the books for girls, we can see pictures of brides in beautiful wedding dresses or girls doing housework.

Otherwise, boys are shown in books as sportsmen, firefighters or policemen.

In this way, we can see that girls are prepared for having a wedding and then a future role of housewife. According to those books, a girl isn’t going to develop as a self-sufficient individual who can achieve certain goals and fulfill her dreams. She just ends up at home while a boy is prepared for a future profession. Anyway, we can hardly find a book where a man is doing housework as it doesn’t appear to be a norm in our modern society.

However, a Swedish book presented in the museum shows the pictures of a child without certain sexual characteristics who is watching his father mopping the floor in the kitchen after the child had made a mess there. Such books show that not only women are responsible for housework and that is a man’s duty as well.

Alternatively, “Girls’ Power. Little Stories of Big Deeds” book which was published in Ukraine in 2018 tells 50 biographies of prominent Ukrainian women. It was created “to admire the hard life and not always fully appreciated achievements of Ukrainian women and girls of all time, their professionalism, faithfulness to their calling and their work for the benefit of all mankind.”

Another book titled “She Also Did It” was created by 120 authors and artists and details the lives of prominent and not very famous Ukrainian women of the past and present who contributed to science, culture and politics.

By using the example of those women, girls will be able to break the so-called “glass ceiling” and fulfill their dreams to become a self-sufficient person.

It’s still not easy to create gender-sensitive space in Ukraine where stereotypes are still strong. Social roles are traditionally fixed for both male and female assumed career paths. But family and school environments together with media coverage based on a modern gender-sensitive approach to raising a child will help to realize the full potential of a kid of any gender.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: krona.org.ua, cnbc.com, divchataSTEM, livemaster, Natalia Ivanova

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.