Dr Asha Pemberton
International Women’s Day was celebrated earlier this week, on March 8. This day of recognition provides an important opportunity for parents and caregivers to educate and inspire their teens about gender equality and also reflect upon their own parenting practices from a gender perspective. Through acknowledging and celebrating women's achievements and challenging gender stereotypes parents are best placed to support a more equitable future generation.
Embrace talking to your teens about gender equality and women’s rights. Despite many commonly held misconceptions, in our country, there is still much to be done to reduce the disparity between the genders. The first step in this process is awareness. Young people should ideally recognise the social, educational and employment inequities which exist and seek to change the status quo. In addition, adolescent girls should be challenged to analyse their own self-limiting thoughts and beliefs, which often serve to prevent them from even considering future opportunities that may be well within their reach. In addition, encourage conversations which allow you to understand your teen’s perspective on current gender related issues. Youth are far more informed and passionate about the impact of body image, body-shaming, gender expectations for dress and deportment that adults are. They will lead a world where many of these issues will be confronted from a different lens. In order to engage them, parents must communicate with them.
Within domestic spaces, parents are encouraged to reframe care-work and the expectations that there are “girl” and “boy” roles within the home. The home environment forms the very foundation of gender roles and gender expression. Parents have a critical role to play in the ways in which young people pattern their own roles and their expectations of others. Household chores are simply chores. Chores which can be performed by anyone. Set the example by ensuring equality between siblings of either gender and between the adults in the home.
In the social media and public realm, role models exist in all shapes, sizes, genders and cultural backgrounds. Encourage your young people to embrace diversity, and to recognise that women fulfil so many roles and responsibilities admirably all over the world. If your daughter is inspired by an individual to whom you do not connect, or understand, keep an open mind and seek connection. Parents continue to play an important role in influencing the identities of young people. Remove barriers as quickly as they are created and take the time to understand the role models in their lives.
Perhaps the most challenging stereotypes that parents have to navigate are their own. In a world where gender expression and identity sometimes defies biological anatomy, parents do struggle with their own bias. We were all raised with a complement of ideals passed down from our parents, while we created our own, and in turn our ideals will differ from those of teens today. The role of parenting is to usher in a fully functioning young adult. Parents who are too rigid run the risk of alienating themselves from this important transitional period. Take time to consider the gender stereotypes that exist and how current trends may differ. Seek to bridge this gap so that as a collective we can support a future generation which truly embraces equity.