Childcare centres encouraged to audit toys and books
Rebecca Urban, The Australian, 21 August 2017
Childcare centres, preschools and libraries will be encouraged to scrutinise books, toys and posters to ensure play spaces are “gender equitable” in the latest government-led bid to tackle family violence starting in childhood.
Based on the premise that gender inequality is linked to violence against women, a new resource for Victorian councils will help children’s services to audit their resources to identify those that contribute to rigid gender stereotypes.
Produced by Melbourne’s Darebin City Council, the Creating Gender Equity in the Early Years guide acknowledges that children’s use of play areas often differs, depending on whether they are male or female.
“It is important to not only think about who is where and how often, but what are they doing there?” the guide says.
“What are the storylines of their play telling you about what the children think are the normal roles for women and men?”
The guide also highlights the importance of books for communicating messages that reinforce or challenge messages about gender, and suggests reviewing the storylines of all books held on the premises. “How many books include only male characters?” it asks. “Of all the characters in all the books, what percentage overall are female?
“Do the attributes, activities and behaviours of the main character reflect gender stereotypes? Do female characters achieve success because of their own initiative and intelligence, or is it due to their looks and relationships with male characters?”
The guide says stories that depict girls and boys participating in a wide variety of activities are important: “For example, stories about girls who get to be the hero and save the day, stories about boys spending a raining day inside doing the dishes and baking cakes”.
The initiative, which was one of 10 local government projects aimed at preventing violence against women to share in $345,000 of state grants, follows the rollout of the Respectful Relationships program.
That program, which encourages teachers to intervene in “gendered play” and avoid gender-specific language such as “boys don’t cry”, has been criticised for being preoccupied with masculinity and gender stereotypes.
Darebin council’s preventing violence against women officer Teneille Summers said research had consistently shown that family violence had its roots in gender inequality, and the early years were a vital life stage for shaping future behaviours.
“If girls are interested in playing with dolls, that’s fine, as long as we’re not preventing them from exploring other interests as well,” Ms Summers said.
“It’s about thinking about ways that everyone can have a go in each of the (play) corners.
“I think early years educators are considering a lot of this already but they wouldn’t necessarily think about it as preventing family violence. But that is what they are doing.”
But Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jeremy Sammut warned the program should alarm parents because children were being used as cannon fodder in the culture war.
“Rather than mould character and foster universal values of treating everyone equally, regardless of sex — which is the true purpose of all education — this guide is clearly politicising childcare by advising how to indoctrinate kids with the ideology that says ‘gender’ is a social construct used by men to oppress women,” Dr Sammut said.
Ms Summers denied that the program was about enforcing political correctness on children’s services. “We’ve got great confidence in this resource because it’s evidence-based and it’s grounded on the findings of groups like Our Watch and the royal commission (into family violence).”