CANADA: Gender Equality Starts In The School Yard

CANADA: Gender Equality Starts In The School Yard

schoolyardA couple of weeks ago, shortly before Toronto schools let out for the summer, my ten-year-old son talked to me about an older boy who was bothering him in the school yard. This kid was trying to take his basketball and saying things like, “You’re such a woman.”

We helped my son through that situation, and the last few days of the school year passed uneventfully. That incident didn’t stop bothering me, though. With all of the gains we like to think we have made when it comes to gender equality, we still live in a world where boys use the word “woman” as an insult.

What message does that send to any girls who happen to be standing around listening? How are they supposed to feel about themselves and their roles in society?

What message does it send to boys like my son? How can I raise him to be respectful toward women when the attitude that men are superior is already present in elementary school?

This morning, something else happened that concerned me. My son and I were part of a cluster of parents and kids waiting for their summer school bus to show up. The adults were chatting and drinking coffee; the kids were playing hopscotch and kicking soccer balls around. It was all fun and games, until a little boy ran up behind a little girl and bonked her lightly on the head.

Now, the little boy was just goofing around, but the little girl was very upset. She ran up to her mother and told her about the mean boy bonking her on the head. Another parent standing nearby said, “Oh, that just means he likes you!”

This may seem harmless to many people, but it really isn’t. It plants the seed in our kids – boys and girls – that abuse is an acceptable demonstration of affection. It teaches girls that in order to be liked, they have to put up with people treating them badly. It teaches boys that they can be jerks and get away with it.

As parents of young kids, we often try to avoid thinking of our kids eventually dating. But the reality is that eventually, our kids will date.

And they way they will treat their boyfriends or girlfriends – and the way they will expect to be treated in return – will be based on the interpersonal skills they are learning now, at the ages of eight, nine and ten.

We live in a society where, in spite of enormous progress when it comes to gender equality, women are still routinely discriminated against. We are told what we have to look like in order to be considered beautiful. We are blamed for injustices that are committed against us, like rape or domestic violence. We are paid less than men in equivalent positions, and even though so many of us work outside the home, we still bear the brunt of household responsibilities.

As the mother of sons, I feel a responsibility to do my part to turn the tide. As they navigate their school years, I want my boys to treat the girls they encounter with respect. I want them to speak out against injustices that they see, and to stand up for girls who find themselves in difficult situations. The school yard incidents that I have seen are the reason we have a problem. I want my sons to be a part of the solution.

Are you the parent of boys or girls? How do you teach them about gender equality and fairness?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Jonathan Rhodes. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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JORDAN:  Grit by Jackie Jenkins

JORDAN: Grit by Jackie Jenkins

GRIT.

The girl children in the library reading the books which Jackie Jenkins bought.

The girl children in the library reading the books which Jackie Jenkins bought.

We talk about it a lot as educators and parents.  A few weeks ago I saw what it really means: to dig deep and push on with a smile on your face and a belief in a better tomorrow, even when faced with war on your doorstep and trauma in your past.

I had been waiting to go to the Zataari refugee camp with Rob (my husband and Representative for UNICEF Jordan) since we arrived in Jordan.  The day finally arrived.

We viewed the water sanitation facilities and delivery trucks, which was fascinating.  As an educator, however, I was most excited to see some of the schools.  I was in my element the minute we walked through the gates. While Rob went to check on the status of classroom desks, play space construction, and water in the latrines, I wanted to see some kids.

I met two incredible principals of the girls’ section of school (girls attend school in the morning, boys in the afternoon). They told me that the Ministry of Education has done an excellent job at getting them all the teaching materials they need and that the school was in good condition. But class sizes are a problem. . . and so we began to walk. . . .

Grade 2 has more than 100 students in a classroom.  Girls sit three to a bench, with the overflow sitting on the floor. When I walked in, they burst into a song, which I am sure I was meant to stand and smile at.  But I can’t help myself around small people, so I just started dancing all over the place, up the aisles and in the front.  The girls laughed and laughed.  Kids are the same everywhere!  But these children deserve a whole lot more after what they have been through.

World Mom, Jackie Jenkins, with Iman Alkhaldi, the Librarian.

World Mom, Jackie Jenkins, with Iman Alkhaldi, the Librarian.

Luckily, there are people in their lives like Iman, whom I also met that day.  She single-handedly built a library in one of the containers that serve as school rooms.  She painted it, collected wood to build shelves, and is now looking for books. She spoke good enough English for me to understand her dreams and passion, and for me to tell her, “It is women like you who will change the world. You already are.”  She cried, and I cried, and I also promised I would fill that room with books written in Arabic and English.

So I left with a new mission. If Iman can build a library oasis, if the dedicated teachers can manage to educate 100 students in a classroom without a complaint after walking out of their country affected by war, I could certainly help fill that library.

Within hours of being home, we set up a crowdrise page for donations.  I sent out emails to international schools globally telling them the story of Iman and the children I had met. My 14 year old daughter talked it up on her social media networks, and I went to bed that night feeling a fire in my belly that I had not felt since my arrival. A deep passion to make a small difference in an immediate way.  It seems the story resonated with many.  In just 48 hours, I had reached my target goal, and was able to purchase more than 500 English and Arabic books, which were delivered to the library within the week.

Grit plus humanity–the connection and compassion with those around us–can accomplish astounding results.  Yet again, I am filled with a sense of hope for the future of a region plagued by conflict and stress.

How do you help our children grow up with grit and the perseverance to face the challenges inevitable in their future? What is one concrete thing you might be able to do in your home or life that is a change for good?

Jacqueline Jenkins (Jordan)

We are a few months into our new 'home of our heart' location in Amman, Jordan. Originally from Canada, I have been moving around the globe for more than twenty years as my husband works for UNICEF. While we were a carefree couple in Uganda, Lesotho and Bangladesh, Meghan joined our family in 2000, while we were living in Myanmar. She was joined in 2005, while we were posted in India by Charlie, her energetic younger brother! Since then we have lived in Mozambique and New York. I am an educator and have been incredibly fortunate to have found rewarding jobs in international schools wherever we have been posted. Most recently I was the Elementary School Principal at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. Since arriving in Jordan, I have been a stay at home Mum, exploring, photographing and learning about the incredible history of the region and the issues facing not only the Jordan population but the incredible number of Syrian refugees currently residing in the country. While I speak English and French, I have not yet started to learn Arabic; a big goal for our time here. I write to record and process this incredible journey we are on as a family. Time passes so incredibly quickly and without a recording of events, it's hard to remember the small moments and wonderings from each posting. Being a mother in this transient lifestyle means being the key cheerleader for our family, it means setting up and taking down a house with six weeks notice, it means creating close friendships and then saying goodbye. All this, while telling yourself that the opportunities your children have make the goodbyes and new hellos worthwhile. Raising a child in this lifestyle has incredible challenges and rewards. The challenges include culture shock every single time, even when you feel the move will be an easy one. It means coaching yourself, in your dark moments to be present and supportive to your children, who have not chosen to move but are trusting you to show them the world and the meaningfulness of the lifestyle we have committed to as a UNICEF family. The upsides to this lifestyle are incredible; the ability to have our children interact and learn about cultures, languages, food, and religions firsthand, the development of tolerance and empathy through relationships with many types of different people and the travel, they have been to more places before the age of ten than some people do in a lifetime! My commitment to raising children who believe in peace and feel responsible for making a difference in creating a better world is at the core of everything I do.

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SAUDI ARABIA: No Girls Allowed

I grew up in a house full of girls with one baby brother, who was so much younger than me that our friends and social lives didn’t overlap.

Now that I am the mother of three boys and one girl, I am learning many things I never knew about boys: they are more straightforward, easier to read, and, honestly, easier to persuade than girls. Boys wrestle–a lot. Even when they haven’t got the hang of walking yet, they wrestle. (I still don’t know why.) Boys are more emotional than I expected, and more sensitive.

I know there’s a lot more to learn about raising boys, and I’m excited to do it–especially because I can call in their father whenever something freaks me out.

Despite my growing expertise in raising boys, something recently caught me off guard. Something obvious in our society, but not so prevalent in my ‘tribe’ (which is what I call my close family–mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.).

My eldest turned 11 this year, and is in the phase between boy and teenager.  And I find myself surprised to discover that our society’s segregation of men and women is changing my relationship with my own son.

I was totally unprepared for the separation that occurred when he moved from the little school to the big school. I went from being able to walk into his class, to speak to his teacher, and to meet his friends and their moms, to having to drop him off and pick him up outside the school gate (but not right in front of it, where the other boys could see us).

No more going into the school, unless I make an appointment with the headmaster and go to his office to speak with the teachers. (And even that is not permissible in most boys’ schools, the majority of which would not even allow a woman on the premises. The same is true for girls’ schools, which don’t permit men on the premises.)

My son can no longer go into the all-women area of the malls. In a few years, he won’t be allowed in any area of the mall without a ‘family’ for fear he will terrorize the girls. (Ironically, some young teenagers wait outside the malls and approach older women, or women with children, and ask them to pretend they are one family to gain entrance into the mall.)

Soon, my son won’t invite his friends over when his sister is home, although he could still invite cousins and close family friends.

There are so many unwritten rules concerning the separation of girls and boys, and a million variations. For some families, it’s pretty black and white: unless he is your brother or father, or unless she is your sister or mother, you don’t spend time with them. It also depends upon the region. In the eastern or western provinces, strict segregation is not as prevalent as it is here in the central region.  In seacoast areas, people have the benefit of interacting with many cultures, and are therefore more forgiving.

I am baffled by how our society has become so segregated. Throughout the early history of Islam, segregation wasn’t practiced. Modesty and chastity, yes. Total segregation, no. I do not even think it was part of our culture as Saudis. At least, not to the extent it is today.

Until recently, Bedouin women were expected to welcome travelers into their tents, and to make them coffee, and even dinner, regardless of whether her husband was there. Yes, most would have had their faces covered (again, a cultural custom, not religious one), but they interacted with men all the time.  It’s only in recent years that things have changed. Some put it down to the influences that came into Saudi when it was united. Others say it is a reaction to how fast we were exposed to the outside world, and how quickly we went from tribal life to modern-day life.

Theories aside, I’m facing the reality of being shut out of a part of my son’s life and of him being shut out of mine.

When I explained my concern to one of his teachers (over the phone) he said, “You can’t follow him around all of his life!” As if I were a stalker! Am I being a stalker? Hmmm, I wonder how involved I would be in his day-to-day school life if I were?

My biggest fear is that if he gets caught up in the wrong crowd, segregation makes it easier in certain houses with absent fathers to make mistakes and do stupid stuff. I thank God his father keeps an eye on him, and that he still fills me in about his day and talks to me when he is upset. If we can continue to talk, I think I may be okay.

Perhaps I just don’t like not being in control of the situation, or perhaps it’s that I don’t have the choice.

Would you naturally step back from your son’s day-to-day life when he turns 11 or 12? Would you withdraw from knowing his friends and supervising his outings?

It’s all foreign territory for me now, and I am learning to deal with it as best I can.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and mother of four, Mama B. 

Photo credit: Dr. Coop under Flickr Creative Commons License

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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