By Mariel Uyquiengco
Last October 11 was the International Day of the Girl. In a fitting coincidence, Malala Yousafzai a Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban because of her advocacy of equal education opportunities for girls, became the youngest recepient of the Nobel Peace Prize a few days before that. Television interviews of Malala with her father show that her ideas blossomed in a nurturing family.
The conditions witnessed by Malala seem alien to most of us. The thought of not having equal access to a basic human right is truly appalling. However, girls do experience some form of gender discrimination everyday. As parents we should be aware of these instances as we are sometimes guilty of this. We should also provide an environment to empower them to live their lives to the fullest.
1. Celebrate the Differences
Teaching equality to young children may be confusing especially since the physical traits of boys and girls are so apparent. The first step then is to celebrate the differences between the two genders. Don’t be afraid of the words “penis” and “vagina”. Try to use them without putting malice in them, they are after all scientific names of body parts.
As children grow older, explaining the natural growth progression that all young girls will go through will be easier for parents who have done this preparation. Talking about the differences sets the stage for teaching equality and empowerment.
2. Be mindful of how you relate to girls
Our biases are often so ingrained in us that we cannot help it showing. A seemingly innocent comment about how a pretty dress shouldn’t be allowed to get soiled might come across as disapproving playfulness; worse still, if you reason out “because he’s a boy and you’re a girl” to their questions.
Parents should examine if their parenting styles differ when they handle boys or girls. Focus on actions or traits you do not want them to acquire, not on their gender.
3. Identify and get to know role models
In a multimedia world, it is quite difficult to not be connected to the world around us. Parents can use this to their advantage when introducing women who have excelled to their little girls. Do not limit their exposure to actresses and artists, who are undoubtedly the more prominent ones. Talk about their achievements and their struggle to reach their success. This is also the time for parents to stress that physical traits such as beauty are not the only things that matter in this world.
4. Let them play how they want to play
All children want to play, that is their job. There are too eager parents of little girls though who give them only dolls and pink toys. Take them to the park and allow them to play rough and get dirty. Introduce them to gender neutral toys such as building blocks or even toys supposedly for boys such as toy cars. We must remember that play is a rehearsal for adult life, if we are already limiting their options at this point then the battle is half lost.
5. Teach them physically demanding life skills
A common way media portray women drivers are stranded and helpless with a flat tire. Granting that having men do the heavy lifting is an advantage, we shouldn’t allow girls to grow up without knowing how to change light bulbs, install picture frames, use carpentry tools and perform simple car repairs. This might be a way also for fathers to bond with their little girls as they show them how it is done. The consequential goal in empowerment is to also make them independent.
Malala can serve as a model to young women everywhere who feel discriminated upon. Let us remember, however, the role that her parents played in her development as an empowered girl and support our own daughters too.
Mariel Uyquiengco hopes to inspire parents to be their children’s first and best teacher. She does this through her blog and online children’s book shop www.thelearningbasket.com and by giving parenting seminars about early childhood development, preschool homeschool, and raising children to be readers.