An early start for gender equality

Children play in the kitchen corner
Children play in the kitchen corner.

October 12, 2011 – Samuel has put on a blue apron to protect his clothes and is standing at the stove cooking beans in a yellow pot. He carefully fills the pot from another metal container and then shakes the beans so they will not burn.

Samuel is not a famous chef or – yet – a man who likes cooking, but he probably has more chance of being either of these than his father or brothers.

At four years of age he is lucky to attend pre-school in El Salvador, where the accessibility of pre-school is limited. The pre-school that he attends is not just any pre-school, but one of 56 in the country that is trying to promote gender equality from an early age. It has been running for two years and is part of Plan El Salvador’s 'A Good Start to Life' program.

Challenging stereotypes

“People don't understand the importance of providing early years services – but we believe that we can challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl by providing different possibilities in our nurseries,” says Beatriz De Paúl Flores, Plan's adviser for gender and child protection in El Salvador.

It was surprisingly difficult to find books, films and toys that were not designed for only one sex or that stereotyped boys and girls. “It’s a slow process, which needs to be sustained through time,” says Beatriz.

Of course, some little boys still want to wear hard hats and bang hammers. Some girls still want to dress as princesses. But in this program, it is acceptable for the children to try out whatever roles they feel comfortable with.

Engaging parents

The program also works with parents so that they understand what the pre-school is trying to do.

Parents are asked to attend meetings and participate in family workshops. They are then encouraged to reinforce messages of gender equality in the home, such as non-sexist language.

“My son has taught me a lot about gender equality; he is barely five years old and he has already explained that I should respect and see girls and women as equals” said José Vásquez, whose son attends the pre-school.

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