Young people are concerned about the damaging impact of stereotypes, the problem of sexual objectification—including its effects on body image and self-confidence — and about sexual violence, victim-blaming and sexting.
They called for safe spaces to talk about gender, gender equality curriculum and for school and community based strategies to empower and educate.
We start learning about the world around us and our place in it in early childhood
Children are able to ‘self-socialise’, which means that children’s books and toys, their parent’s jobs, the way people around them interact and the attitudes they convey, all influence how children think about themselves in the world.
From two years old, children begin forming concepts of gender and gender difference. By age five, children develop their gender identity and become aware of gender differences and by seven, children are developing rigid ideas of gender.
Primary school aged children already define jobs as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ jobs and while they may be keen to challenge these categories, stereotypes can stand in the way.
What works: Negotiation of gender markers
Engaging in constructive two-way conversations with students about dress codes is a useful tool. For example, when students at a school in Washington staged a protest about gendered dress codes, the principal engaged in a discussion with the students to develop a new dress code that worked for everyone. This was subsequently implemented district wide.
At school, gender stereotypes become entrenched and shape attitudes, behaviours and choices
At age 15, Victorian boys outperform girls in numeracy, while in reading Victorian girls outperform boys. Girls are more likely to opt out of intensive maths—a critical prerequisite for many tertiary STEM courses.
Outside of the classroom, gender stereotypes also play a role and influence ideas about sexuality and body image. They also inform young people’s expectations about intimate relationships.
Bullying, discrimination and mental health issues might also arise as a result of these gendered expectations, with negative consequences for girls, trans and gender diverse young people, and boys. Cultural connection and safety also impact on a child's confidence and sense of belonging.
Despite school dress code policies emphasising the need to treat students equally, in practice these codes can also be heavily gendered. Attempts to enforce modest dress codes for girls as a means of preventing sexist behaviour, harassment and violence reinforce the unhelpful notion that girls are responsible for ensuring their own safety.
Tertiary and vocational pathways
There are big differences in tertiary and vocational pathways Women make up 33% of STEM undergraduates, 40% of STEM PhD completions, and 14% of STEM professors. Women account for less than 4% of Victorian VET enrolments for construction, engineering and trades courses and less than 10% of apprenticeships. Men comprise only 16% of Victorian VET enrolments for the caring industries, including nursing, early childhood, aged and disability care.
Compared to male early school leavers, women are less likely to find full-time work and more likely to go into lower paid work. This reflects that women are 48% less likely to re-engage with study following the birth of a child.
What works: Community group as settings for change
Local councils and youth and community groups have a role to play in creating safe spaces for young people to explore gender and sexual orientation issues. For example, the Minus18 Atrium provides a safe space in Melbourne for LGBTI young people to come together, offer and receive support, collaborate on projects, workshops and events, and transform social attitudes towards LGBTI communities. The foundation runs a range of social events, provides online resources and regularly blogs on LGBTI issues.
Case study: Human United Strength Organisation (HUSO) Mentoring – Teaching Positive Masculinity
The HUSO Mentoring Group is a student-founded group that provides after-school support and a safe space for high school boys to discuss subjects that are often difficult to talk about with friends and relatives. The purpose is to give young boys a chance to rethink maleness and transform the way men treat each other and women. The group focuses on the relatively modern concept of Masculinity Studies, which challenges traditional attitudes towards masculinity and men’s roles.
Respectful Relationships Education
In 2015 the Victorian Government announced the introduction of Respectful Relationships Education into the school curriculum.
The curriculum supports students to learn how to build healthy relationship and challenge negative stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours such as prejudice, discrimination and harassment that can lead to violence and excuse violence against women.
The Victorian Government is investing $21.8 million over two years to implement Respectful Relationships Education across schools and early childhood services because the best relationships are respectful ones, and expansion of the program was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
- develop gender equality programs with young people, including apps, gender equal reading lists and gender equality resources
- encourage women and girls to undertake studies and career pathways in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.