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Pink and Blue - Gender Sensitization in Children

July 30,2018 | Sanober Khan

“When a son is born,

Let him sleep on the bed,

Clothe him with fine clothes,

And give him jade to play...

When a daughter is born,

Let her sleep on the ground,

Wrap her in common wrappings,

And give broken tiles to play... "

China: Book of Songs (1000-700 B.C.)

They say that learning begins at birth, that children are impressionable. It’s probably why we take no time in starting to base the ‘development’ of a child on how fast he/ she can learn the alphabet and numbers. Yet more often than not, we don’t consider the same susceptibility in shaping our own behaviour around children.

Gender sensitization broadly implies developing empathy towards our own and other genders, and a huge part of it begins during childhood. Gender stereotypes are crucial in teaching boys and girls what the culture expects of them. Once you start seeing gender stereotyping in society, you can’t unsee it. But how parents and teachers decide to reinforce or shun these stereotypes certainly determines how the child deals with it then and in the years to come.

According to a study conducted by CNN, children between the age of 2 and 6 start learning stereotypes about toys, skills, and activities associated with gender. Between the age of 7 and 10 they start attributing certain qualities to gender like men being aggressive and women being emotional. Children internalize the messages they hear from parents and teachers and from what they read and see on television. While everything these days comes with parental control for what children are exposed to, can we also filter out stories about Prince Charming and damsels in distress? Can we make them understand that being an Okoye is far more preferable than being a Cinderella? That it is perfectly acceptable to be the Steve Trevor to Diana Prince?

Concerning children in the later stages of schooling, it is no longer mandatory for Indian schools to impart sex education. According to a report by DNA India, when sex education in Indian schools was introduced in 2007, the state governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Goa protested and eventually banned it on grounds of immorality. Two years later, a parliamentary standing committee stated that sex education needed to be limited to biology class and not taught before the tenth grade. Sure, but children are getting aware of their sexual orientation early and given their inquisitive nature combined with the wide range of resources available to everyone, will find answers to their questions whether or not you want to answer them directly. While gender sensitization is not to be confused or considered synonymous with sex education, the manner of instruction of the subject, with a focus on gender, power and harnessing mutual respect could certainly be a step forward in sensitization.

Empathy is key. Allow a girl to be as loud and noisy as you would a boy. Comfort a boy as you would a girl if he is sad or unhappy. Tell her that she doesn’t have to like pink. Tell him that’s it’s okay to like pink. She doesn’t have to wear makeup and look perfect all the time. He should know that grooming is absolutely acceptable. Don’t raise him for the sole purpose of supporting a family and running a household. Raise her to be financially independent. The boy, the girl, the confused, the closeted. They all like school, they all like art, they all like sports, they all like cooking, they all like looking good. Teach children about gender equality by never using gender as an excuse for behaviour.

While these things are easier said than done and nothing could possibly ensure a quick change in society, the point is to slowly subside the deep-rooted tensions inherent in society’s construction of gender. To subvert prescribed social roles. To understand the socio-cultural baggage of your gender and rise above it. Above all, to be celebrated for what you are.

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