For girls, for boys not so in­no­cent?

Gen­der stereo­typ­ing starts young and can pose dan­gers: study

African Independent - - NEWS -

Gen­der stereo­types are firmly rooted in to­day’s youth by age 10, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent global study that warns such be­liefs can raise the risk of de­pres­sion, suicide, vi­o­lence and HIV.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which spanned 15 coun­tries, sug­gested vast amounts of money were wasted on stereo­type preven­tion pro­grammes for teenagers, be­cause ef­forts must be­gin far ear­lier.

“Ado­les­cent health risks are shaped by be­hav­iours rooted in gen­der roles that can be well es­tab­lished in kids by the time they are 10 or 11 years old,” said Kristin Mmari, lead re­searcher for the qual­i­ta­tive re­search at the Global Early Ado­les­cent Study, a part­ner­ship be­tween the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion and Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity.

“Yet we see bil­lions of dol­lars around the world in­vested in ado­les­cent health pro­grammes that don’t kick in un­til they are 15, and by then it’s prob­a­bly too late.”

The study in­cluded 450 early ado­les­cents matched with a par­ent or guardian. In­ter­views were con­ducted in South Africa, Bo­livia, Bel­gium, Burk­ina Faso, China, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, In­dia, Kenya, Malawi, Nige­ria, Scot­land, the US and Viet­nam.

Re­searchers found gen­der stereo­types which em­pha­sised fe­male pas­siv­ity could en­cour­age abuse. Th­ese stereo­types “leave girls at greater risk of drop­ping out of school or suf­fer­ing phys­i­cal and sex­ual vi­o­lence, child mar­riage, early preg­nancy, HIV and other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions”.

Boys were en­cour­aged to spend time out­side of the home, un­su­per­vised, to ex­plore the world.

When it came to re­la­tion­ships, boys were con­sis­tently viewed as be­ing the ones al­lowed to take the first step ex­cept in one city – Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land.

Mean­while, girls across the world were taught that their bod­ies were their key as­sets.

“In New Delhi, the girls talked about their bod­ies as a big risk that needs to be cov­ered up, while in Bal­ti­more girls told us their pri­mary as­set was their bod­ies and that they need to look ap­peal­ing – but not too ap­peal­ing,” Mmari said.

Boys, too suf­fered from stereo­types that em­pha­sised phys­i­cal strength and in­de­pen­dence, which could make them more sus­cep­ti­ble to vi­o­lence and sub­stance abuse.

While there was in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance for girls who wanted to dress or act like boys – par­tic­u­larly in Bel­gium, China, In­dia and the US – there was “al­most zero tol­er­ance for boys” who pushed back against typ­i­cal gen­der roles.

“Boys who chal­lenge gen­der norms by their dress or be­hav­iour were by many re­spon­dents seen as so­cially in­fe­rior,” and were of­ten bul­lied, teased and beaten.

“We found chil­dren at a very early age quickly in­ter­nalise this myth that girls are vul­ner­a­ble and boys are strong and in­de­pen­dent,” said Robert Blum, di­rec­tor of the Global Early Ado­les­cent Study.

“And this mes­sage is be­ing con­stantly re­in­forced by sib­lings, class­mates, teach­ers, par­ents, guardians, rel­a­tives, clergy and coaches.” – AFP

PIC­TURE: FREDRIK SAND­BERG / AP PHOTO/SCANPIX SWE­DEN

A child at Egalia, a preschool aim­ing to com­bat gen­der stereo­types, in Stockholm, Swe­den. Staff avoid us­ing words like ‘him’ or ‘her’. Ev­ery de­tail has been planned – from the colour of toys to the se­lec­tion of lit­er­a­ture. A re­port has found stereo­types are in­grained at an early age.

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