Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity are key drivers of violence against women.
Globally, one in three women has experienced physical violence, one out of five exposed to sexual violence and eight in ten harassed on the street. Violence against women has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (be it sexual, physical or psychological) as a major public health issue and should be seen as violation of women’s human rights.
Early childhood is a key developmental period when children begin to learn about gender.
Gender is different from a person’s biological sex. A person’s sex is based on physical features such as anatomy, hormones and reproductive organs. Their gender is the way they think and act based on learned roles and social expectations.
From birth, children learn about gender-appropriate attitudes and behaviours through gender socialisation. They learn to “do” gender through internalising gender norms and roles as they interact with people around them.
Families are primary agents of gender socialisation, and often provide children’s first sources of information and learning about gender.
Children understand and act out gender roles and stereotypes at an early age.
The degree to which they internalise and adopt stereotyped attitudes and behaviours can have long-term effects on their attitudes, behaviours and values.
People who support rigid gender roles and relations are more likely to endorse attitudes that justify, excuse, minimise or trivialise violence against women, or blame or hold women at least partially responsible for the violence against them.
Not all boys who play with trucks are going to end up violent. But traditional masculine gender roles and ideologies (for example, “men need to be tough”) are associated with men’s violence against women.
Researchers have yet to carry out longitudinal (long-term) studies to directly track the impact of early education in the home on outcomes related to gender equality and violence against women.
However, research suggests parents can play an important role in promoting gender equality and building children’s resilience to rigid gender stereotypes in early childhood, a key action to prevent violence against women
Parents first need to become more aware of rigid gender stereotypes and consciously question their existence, necessity and impact.
Parents often implicitly reinforce gender stereotypes, even when they intend not to. For example, parents can convey messages about gender appropriate emotions and activities when sending their children an errand. for instance, girls are to go to the kitchen while boys are to play football with their peers in the garden
Parents can also promote gender equality by supporting a range of activities for both their sons and daughters.