Early Years - You said – we listened

What you told us

In July and August 2019, we invited public feedback on the Spotlight topic of early years. We’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone who shared their experiences and ideas. A full report has been given to the NACWG and a summary version is shared below.

Please note: these reports summarise the responses received to this open call for submissions. They do not represent the views of the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (we are seeking feedback to gain more insight) nor do they represent a majority view or the view of the Scottish population. They represent the views of those organisations or individuals who have chosen, proactively, to respond.

Who did we hear from?

We had a great response and heard from both individuals and ‘Wee Circle’ discussions.
We heard from a range of genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, ages, as well as from people with a disability. ‘Wee Circle’ participants included: parents, people in third sector and public sector organisations, Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) practitioners, and people living in rural and remote communities.

We asked three questions:

Q1 In Scotland, what are the biggest equality issues around gender stereotypes during children’s early years?
Q2 In Scotland, what needs to change to reduce harmful gender stereotypes during children’s early years?
Q3 What actions should NACWG recommend to improve gender equality for early years children?

What did we learn?

The responses spanned four main areas:

  • Gender stereotyping by society (e.g. products, toys, colours, characters, messages)
  • Gender stereotyping in the context of Early Years Childcare (ELC)
  • Gender stereotyping within the home and family
  • Gender issues within related policy areas (e.g. health, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), and others)

Across all four areas there was a call for greater recognition that gender stereotyping can be harmful and damaging to young children, (rather than merely being outdated or an annoyance to some people).
Reducing gender stereotyping during early years was felt to have benefits for boys as well as girls. Responses also highlighted the potential for additional benefits such as greater acceptance of LGBT+ people and families. Several responses called for an intersectional approach to reducing gender inequality in early years, considering intertwined factors such as race and disability.

1. Gender Stereotyping by Society 
Feedback included frustration at how hard it is to escape the gender stereotyping of products for young children and the frequent lack of non-gendered options. This included: the pink-blue divide; gender stereotyping of toys and play activities; the often less-practical nature of clothing for young girls; stereotypical slogans and messaging on young children’s clothing; and gender stereotypes within media and entertainment aimed at young children. Respondents highlighted a range of harms associated with these including: less practical clothing meaning girls are less active than boys; children having their early interests curtailed to what is deemed appropriate for boys and girls; potential for bullying if children diverge from gender norms (and parents’ tendency to conform to stereotypical norms to prevent bullying); and girls and boys being socialised into stereotypical behaviours (e.g. girls being cute and appearance focused and boys being loud and active).
Respondents’ suggested actions included: more criticism and regulation around harmful gender stereotypes in products, clothing and entertainment for young children; funding or awards for children’s media which challenges gender stereotypes; and a public information campaign to accelerate understanding of the harms and need for change.

2. Gender Stereotyping in the Context of Early Years Childcare (ELC) 
Feedback repeatedly identified ELC practitioners as being in a unique and important position to influence children’s development: creating environments that encourage equal and respectful relationships, breaking down harmful gender norms and promoting gender equality to help children be free of limiting stereotypes.
Respondents suggested potential actions including:

  • Greater visibility of the BBC documentary ‘No more boys and girls’.
  • Removing unnecessary gender division within ELC and early Primary School settings as much as possible e.g. gendered language, colours, lining-up, uniforms, sports etc.
  • ELC practitioners offering ‘compensatory activities’ e.g. care-based play for boys, and team-leader roles for girls.
  • Providing activities and equipment that encourages mixed play, (including consideration of Montessori practices around practical life skills and non-gendered activities).
  • Enabling young children to interact with people who challenge gender stereotypes e.g. a female fire fighter and male nurse.

Respondents also suggested actions around ELC staff training. These included:

  • Formalising and standardising ELC staff (and volunteer) training around gender issues, including standard college modules on gender-friendly practice, differences between sex and gender, how intersectionality impacts on children, and gender in the context of additional support needs.
  • Using continuous professional development (CPD) to mainstream gender-friendly practice at all levels of staff experience and seniority.
  • Ensuring ELC staff have sufficient time and resources to provide services that reduce gender stereotyping.
  • Increasing adoption of existing ‘Gender Friendly Nursery’ training and resources, (currently being rolled-out in Glasgow), and increasing access to other existing resources s
  • uch as ‘Gender Equal Play in Early Learning and Childcare’ developed by Zero Tolerance and the Care Inspectorate.
  • Setting minimum standards for early years staff and practice around gender equality and capacity to respond to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) using bodies such as the Care Inspectorate and Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) to inspect and enforce standards.
  • Requiring parents to attend orientation sessions on gender-friendly practices and supporting ELC staff to raise issues with parents.
  • Recognising children as agents of change and ensuring their voices are central to ELC practice.
  • Increasing the proportion of men in the ELC workforce; improving conditions for the ELC workforce and considering how early years expansion in Scotland will impact women in terms of working hours and part-time working.

3.Gender Stereotyping within the Home and Family
Feedback comments recognised that the home environment has a huge impact on young children’s understanding of gender and that not all children access funded ELC provision, especially at the younger age-range. Respondents suggested action to tackle issues like:

  • How employment, childcare and housework influence young children’s perceptions of gender, with boys and girls potentially lacking diverse role models.
  • Stay-at-home fathers still being unusual and the scope for gendernorms to be perpetuated by language such as ‘mother and baby’ groups).
  • Some parents, carers and wider family members not seeing any harm in gender stereotypes.
  • The potential for phrases such as ‘boys don’t cry’, and unconscious biases (such as praising girls’ appearance and boys’ actions) to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
  • The overlap of gender stereotypes and LGBT+ prejudice e.g. labelling things ‘girly’ or ‘gay’.

4.Gender Issues Within Related Policy Areas 
‘Wee Circle’ feedback noted that most of Scotland’s policies related to children and young people do not contain a gender analysis and lack a policy scrutiny process / action plan to ensure this happens. Respondents suggested possible scope for action around:

  • Introducing a policy scrutiny process.
  • Creating a directory of LGBT+ education support services within local authority areas.
  • Using the Baby Box to promote gender equal practice within the home and wider community and to tackle unconscious bias.
  • Making sure key parent-focused publications and resources are refreshed to support gender equality, when appropriate (e.g. the Play Strategy, Ready Steady Baby, Ready Steady Toddler, Play Talk Read, Scottish Government Parent Club, and Bookbug).
  • Continuing gender-friendly work into Primary School settings, (including emphasis on health and wellbeing, support for girls who are victims of male abuse, and education about bodies and rights).
  • Addressing gender stereotypes in the context of healthcare e.g. maternity services and resources; antenatal groups, re-examining responses to gender dysphoria and examining stereotypes before moving too hastily towards surgical or pharmacological interventions.
  • Making sure children’s services are inspected and held accountable on gender equality and ability to respond to violence against women and girls.
  • Making sure the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) approach in Scotland takes the gendered natures of some ACEs into account and recognising/funding the role family and women’s support services play in helping families recover from ACE related harm.
  • Undertaking research into links between gender inequality and child poverty.
  • Tackling employment policies such as: increasing uptake of shared parental leave; encouraging family-friendly workplace practices; flexible working; support for parents returning to work; and encouraging employer sensitivity around miscarriage and IVF.
  • Making progress towards incorporating children’s rights fully into Scottish law (recognising the suite of rights in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and enacting these meaningfully.
  • Designing public spaces to be more gender-friendly and accessible to everyone.

Thank You

This is a summary of the responses and can’t highlight every individual point raised. However full feedback has been shared with the NACWG.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their feedback – it is valuable. We’d love as many people as possible to share their ideas on our next Spotlight topics. We have a new one every two months.