On March 8th, as my male and female friends around the world participated in public dances to raise awareness about violence against women, attended or performed ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ or decorated their Facebook walls with articles about gender-equality, the women I know in Colombia were given roses and chocolates.
The night before International Women’s Day, I searched the internet for information about events on in Bogotá marking the occasion but nothing even remotely political was on the agenda (if there was, and I missed it, please let me know!) – only some classical music and suggestions of where to buy flowers for the women in your life. I know so many strong, independent and inspirational Latin American women so where the political teeth of International Women’s Day have gone to in this Latin American country is a complete mystery to me.
My worries had only just begun, however. As a teacher, I have decided to cover the topic of International Women’s Day in my classes this coming week – as best I can to 6-8 year-olds who barely speak English. My three hour-long search for activities for early primary school kids on International Women’s Day, gender equality, or any remotely related topics came up with almost absolutely nothing. Sure, there are plenty of great resources for older kids or kids with higher levels of English, but try to find anything suitable for very young kids and you’ll be disappointed. The best resource I could find so far is a short video created by the European Commission on equally valuing men and women’s work. Children’s fundamental ideas about categorising the world form fairly early so, if we don’t have the resources to teach them about equal rights for boys and girls when they are in first grade or younger, how can we have any hope of changing the strict gender norms that oppress us all?
Dejected, I eventually decided to make my own game for the kids, breaking down stereotypes of traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs. But as I searched for “builder clipart,” “mechanic clipart,” and “police clipart” for the game, I became more and more disheartened as 99% of the images each time were of men only. To find images of women performing these roles I had to specifically request “female builder clipart,” etc. and then – surprise, surprise – a hearty chunk of those images fell into the category of sexually exploitative (to see what I mean, search Google images for “female mechanic clipart”). And the situation was just as dire when I looked for images of men in traditionally ‘female’ roles. “Ballet dancer clipart” yields a field of powder pink images of dancing girls and women, while a search for “male ballet dancer clipart” results in mostly humorous illustrations of overweight, hairy men in pink tu-tu’s.
So, as much as I began the weekend lamenting the state of International Women’s Day in Colombia, I ended it even more distressed about how the next generation of kids around the world will understand that an equal world is, at least in part, one where boys and girls have an equal opportunity to choose what profession they want, without judgement or ostracism.
If you know of any gender equality educational resources appropriate for early primary school-aged ESL students, I’d desperately love to hear about them.
Until then, happy Monday.