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Breaking gender stereotypes brings out children’s full potential

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Can a little girl play with construction materials? This question could be non-sense to most of us. However, many teachers in the center of Vietnam have worked hard in recent years to convey a “Yes” to this question. In Vietnam, gender stereotypes often limit boys and girls at very early ages in preschools and in their daily life.

I have participated in gender-responsive training, after that I let boys and girls in my class choose the activity corners that they want. Some girls chose to join the construction corner. When their parents learned about this, they were unhappy and complained to me about their daughters needing to play with something for girls.
- Teacher at Quang Nam province, Vietnam
Breaking gender stereotypes, Quang Nam province, Vietnam
Gender stereotypes settle boys mainly at the construction corner, girls need to be at role-play corners or cooking corners.

Gender-based violence remains a major problem in Vietnam, though it is often invisible. Research shows that nearly 70% of married women experience some form of violence. This is often caused by harmful gender-stereotypes linked to the definition of men and women’s role in a family. Such stereotypes are shaped at a very early age – this is what the GENTLE project helped pre-schools to address.

By removing gender-stereotypes from the children’s learning and playing environment, all children are able to develop to their fullest potential. They no longer absorb potentially harmful stereotypes that could become the basis for gender-based violence later in life.

A girl presents her work at the construction corner
A girl presents her product at the construction corner.

A father in Quang Ngai province complained that “because preschool teachers let my son play with a doll, he came home and asked me to buy dolls for him, that’s unacceptable for a boy”

After more than 2 years of implementing Gender-responsive teaching and learning in the early years (GENTLE) project with preschool teachers, educational leaders and parents, many positive changes can be observed in the pre-school classes and in the communities:

“I have started to change the decoration in the classroom to remove the gender-stereotypes. for example: workers’ images in construction corner can now be boys and girls. The decorative writing on construction corners' walls used to read "Little Male Builder, now we no longer use the word "Male" because it implies a fixed gender role. We now use "Little Builders" instead to address construction workers.” , explains a teacher at Quang Nam province.

Pre-school construction corner before
Written at construction corner: Little Male Builder (Before)
Written at construction corner: Little Builders (After)
Written at construction corner: Little Builders (After)
It’s important to remove gender-stereotypes in family activities as much as in preschool activities. We have organised many communication activities about this topic targeted towards parents. Those communication activities aim to help parents understand gender-responsiveness so they could let their child play as his/her will. Recently, we‘ve observed some positive changes such as some parents have let their daughter play football. This was not happening before.
- Teacher at Quang Ngai province, Vietnam

The GENTLE project is co-funded by the EU, and is implemented by VVOB Vietnam and the Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) between 2018 and 2021. The project focuses on developing the capacity of preschool teachers and school leaders to challenge social and gender norms, create new rules, and support children in adopting new, more equitable attitudes and behaviors at both preschool and family contexts. Participating teachers were also empowered to address this complex issue with parent groups.

A parent-teacher session about gender-responsive activities to parents in Quang Ngai
A parent-teacher session about gender-responsive activities to parents in Quang Ngai