Challenging gender stereotypes at nursery
Plan's nursery projects in El Salvador aim to instill ideas of gender equality from an early age.
Samuel has put on a blue apron to protect his clothes and is standing at the stove cooking beans in a yellow pot. He carefully fills the pot from another metal container and then shakes the beans so they will not burn.
Samuel is not a famous chef or - yet - a man who likes cooking, but he probably has more chance of being either of these than his father or brothers. At 4 years of age he is lucky to attend nursery in El Salvador, where nursery provision is minimal. And the nursery that he attends is not just any nursery, but one of 56 in the country that is trying to promote gender equality from an early age. It has been running for 2 years and is part of Plan El Salvador's 'A Good Start to Life' program.
"People don't understand the importance of providing early years services – but we believe that we can challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl by providing different possibilities in our nurseries," says Beatriz De Paúl Flores, Plan's adviser for gender and child protection in El Salvador.
It was surprisingly difficult to find books, films and toys that were not designed for only one sex or that stereotyped boys and girls. "It’s a slow process, which needs to be sustained through time," says Beatriz.
Of course, some little boys still want to wear hard hats and bang hammers. Some girls still want to dress as princesses. But in this nursery it is acceptable for the children to try out whatever roles they feel comfortable with.
The program also works with parents so that they understand what the nursery is trying to do. Parents are asked to attend meetings at the nursery and participate in family workshops. They are then encouraged to reinforce messages of gender equality in the home, such as non-sexist language.
As José Vásquez, whose son attends the day care center, says: "My son has taught me a lot about gender equality; he is barely 5 years old and he has already explained that I should respect and see girls and women as equals."