Our new resource promotes gender equality from an early age

Our latest resource Gender Equal Play encourages and positively promotes gender equal play by highlighting and sharing good practice examples from across the early learning and childcare (ELC) sector. This is a really important new resource to help boost practitioner awareness of the positive benefits from encouraging and supporting gender equality from an early age.

The Care Inspectorate has co-produced this resource with Zero Tolerance, a charity working to end men’s violence against women. We believe that it is important to ask everyone in the ELC sector to think about how they approach gender equality in play and early learning, and how we can positively support and promote it. We hope that by tackling gender stereotyping, we can give children the opportunity to play and learn without the restrictions these stereotypes place on them.

This is an area where we can make a real difference in outcomes for children. It is aligned with Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland to be the best place for children to grow up by ensuring their rights are respected and by promoting equality.  As one of the Health and Social Care Standards states: “My human rights are protected and promoted and I experience no discrimination.”

Maree Todd, Minister for Childcare and Early Years, joined us for the launch of Gender Equal Play in December. She said: “Evidence shows that gender stereotyping from a very early age has an impact on the decisions that girls and boys make about their future subject and career choices. This guide explains the importance of challenging gender stereotyping and provides ideas and examples for early years professionals of existing good practice.”

While most people agree that gender equality is a good idea, within ELC services there is a need for advice and guidance for practitioners on how to support gender equality and avoid harmful stereotyping in their practice. In developing this resource, we worked alongside the sector to enable children, providers, practitioners and families to tell their own stories. The resource therefore offers practical and helpful tips on how to promote gender equality in an accessible way. As well as sharing practice examples from a range of different settings, we also advise on other resources available to services, such as children’s books, toys, activities, training and further reading.

Gender stereotypes encourage restrictive ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl. As Rachel Adamson, Director of Zero Tolerance, pointed out: “They teach girls to be pretty, and not to play with ‘boys’ toys’ such as cars and sports. They teach boys to be unemotional and not to play with ‘girls’ toys’ such as baby dolls and art. Segregating toys in this way limits play, which is crucial to how children develop and learn about the world.

“The damaging effects of these early gender stereotypes are experienced by all children, but particularly by girls, from a young age impacting their self-esteem, wellbeing, job choices and income. Evidence also shows that in societies with more gender stereotyping there are higher levels of violence against women. By tackling gender stereotyping, we can give children the opportunity to play and learn without the restrictions these stereotypes place on them."

One of the harmful impacts of gender stereotyping is that it limits how children imagine their futures. Stereotypes can convince children that certain options are open to them while others are not. This early influence has long-term consequences, first in school subject choice and later in career choice. This might take the form of little girls feeling like they cannot be interested in block play and cars or pursue a career as a firefighter and little boys feeling like they should not show nurturing skills or pursue a career in nursing, or indeed the ELC sector.

With a professional background in ELC, I have experience of how limiting rigid gender roles can be for children and staff across the sector. Producing this helpful guide for people to break down gender stereotypes therefore has a particular resonance for me. When I started working with children, I didn't meet many other men in this profession. So, I am also pleased that this resource supports the Scottish Government’s current drive to increase the number of men working in the ELC sector.   

Everyone who is involved in the ELC sector has an excellent opportunity to influence children’s development. You have the capacity to create environments that encourage equal and respectful relationships, break down harmful gender norms and promote gender equality to ensure that children are free from limiting gender stereotypes. We hope you find this resource useful and inspiring.

Gender Equal Play is available on the Care Inspectorate website: bit.ly/genderequalplay

If you have a practice example of promoting gender equality in ELC that you would like to share with the sector, please contact the Care Inspectorate’s Hub team: hub@careinspectorate.gov.scot