New book helps fight gender stereotypes in school education

The notions of gender, gender equality, gender stereotypes and discrimination are still relatively new in Czech society. A group of activists has decided to start from to the youngest generation and to promote gender equality in schools. A book recently published and handed out to schools introduces the concepts and practices of gender sensitive education to both school teachers and children.

If school children are asked to draw a picture of what their family did at the weekend, very often the drawings feature the mother preparing a meal in the kitchen, the father sitting and reading a newspaper and the children playing. The new book called "Gender-Sensitive Education: Where to Start? tries to make both children and teachers think about why the roles are so divided in the household. Using real life examples and experience, the book tries to raise awareness of gender sensitive upbringing and challenge stereotypes in education. Anna Babanova is one of the people behind the project.

"Our manual is for teachers at primary and secondary schools. It is a first step to understanding gender stereotypes and how to teach children in a gender sensitive way. It is still a new approach in this country and there is only little awareness among teachers and the public - who are afraid of the 'spectre' of feminism. The book helps us understand how we are influenced by stereotypes and helps us reflect them instead of accepting them."

Anna Babanova says the key message of the book is that schools should treat boys and girls without expecting a certain kind of behaviour from either. Children should know they can develop in a way they want without any barriers and limits posed by their gender. She says children should be brought up as individuals with regard to their own personal qualities and not according to how they are supposed to behave as boys and girls.

"The usual stereotypical images are that boys are better at technical subjects and girls are better at languages. Boys are naughty, girls are quiet. Boys have better reasoning, while girls follow their emotions and intuition. There is no doubt we experience those qualities in real life but the question is whether they are natural or conditioned by upbringing. It is important not to apply this pattern on all girls and all boys regardless of their individual personalities. Those who do not fit the pattern are then excluded and regarded as abnormal and irregular."

Using pictures, digital technologies and a range of activities addressing the topic of gender equality, the book is supposed to first raise the issue at Czech schools and other projects are to follow. Anna Babanova says she believes that 2007 being European Year of Equal Opportunities will bring more opportunities to promote gender sensitive education in Czech schools.