Early Childhood - Critical Period to Address Gender Stereotypes

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Gender stereotypes can be imposed on children from infancy, and therefore, the process of dispelling them must start in the early childhood years of development. This was a central message as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) hosted a Conversation on Gender Socialisation and Early Childhood Development (ECD), entitled 'Teaching Them', at its headquarters in Barbados on Friday January 15, 2016. The forum sought to promote and disseminate knowledge among staff members, as well as specially invited guests, on evidence-based approaches to socialising young children. Daniel Best, Director of Projects at the CDB, said that gender stereotypes must be addressed if countries in the region wish to build a competitive workforce. He noted that research has shown that as early as age 5, children begin to internalize gender expectations. “The outcomes are the adoption of stereotypical behaviours among boys and girls and persistent gender inequalities in the social and economic spheres of activities. The Bank is cognisant that critical to enhanced competitiveness in developing economies is improving production efficiency and the desegregation of the labour force." Facilitators Tennisha Morris, an educator and doctoral candidate in Education, Shelley Boyce, Principal of the Maria Holder Nursery School and Jacqueline Medford, teacher at the Holy Innocents Primary School in Barbados, provided an overview of research of gender socialisation and early childhood development. They shared observations on children at play and the inter-relationships between children and caregivers; as well as good practice in approaches to sensitising boys and girls on gender. Main facilitator for the session, Tennisha Morris, noted that caregivers in the early childhood settings have tremendous influence on shaping gender identities. “Attitudes and beliefs related to children' development of interpersonal relations can be shaped by gender experiences." Gender stereotypes are imposed on children from infancy making early childhood education a critical entry point. The CDB expects the 'Conversation' to contribute to creating gender sensitive early childhood settings which will allow children to develop a positive sense of their gender identity and promote their physical and psychological well-being and the forum provided guidelines to the practitioners to this end. CDB has identified Gender Equality as a major cross-cutting theme in its 2015-19 Strategic Plan, and has undertaken training aimed at dismantling traditional gender stereotyping. Previous initiatives include workshops for ECD practitioners and a recently launched collaboration with the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus on Curriculum Development and Training in Gender Socialisation for ECD Practitioners in the Caribbean. The Bank' Gender Policy and Operational Strategy for Gender Equality commits it to work in partnership with stakeholders to undertake gender equality capacity building to enhance skills in gender analysis. CDB has previously provided financing for the Caribbean Institute in Gender & Development training programme, hosted by the Institute for Gender & Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit of the University of the West Indies.

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