Despite gains made on achieving gender equality, gender stereotype however still remains a crux towards a gender-equal society. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Sierra Leone, Gender Stereotype “is a generalized view or preconception about attributes, or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by women and men or the roles that are or should be performed by men and women”.
Gender Stereotype is therefore harmful when it limits the capacity of women and men to develop their personal attributes or professional skills and to make decisions that affect their lives. Women and girls are mostly the victims of gender stereotype, and society is the breeding place for such. Gender stereotype against women and girls occur in different places within our society. Gender stereotype is most common at home, school, socialization places, religious places, political arenas, to name but a few. The home and school are the bedrock for the plantation and survival of gender stereotype against women and girls which render them victims reaping the consequences.
Activities, clothing, hobbies and roles are often defined at home according to sex – boys and girls, men and women. For instance, a typical Sierra Leonean parent begins to teach her children that school is not for girls but for boys; the only place for girls is marriage. Also, we would be taught and forced to practice that the kitchen, all house chores and looking after the children and husband are roles of girls and women, whiles boys and men go to the farm and office to fend for the family. So, at a tender age children’s minds and thoughts are framed to believe that this is the appropriate and right way society should operate. Not only that, they are compelled to grow up with such beliefs and thoughts thereby making it intergenerational or inherent norm. This often badly impact innocent girls’ lives at home level making them feel inferior, and discouraging them from developing, pursuing and achieving their beautiful dreams. There is no doubt that the Journal Science in 2017 points out that girls begin to feel less intelligent than boys at age six (6). “Neither boys nor girls are born sexist, there is something that we as society do to make them reach that point,” says Miriam Gonzalez, founder of Inspiring Girls in Spain.
In School (Educational institutions)
From home, teachers in school who are supposed to change the narratives however continue to instill and strengthen gender stereotype behaviours or beliefs in children. This is not farfetched from the fact that there are a few female teachers compared to male. In Sierra Leone for example, over 84% of primary school teachers are male (9 out of 10 primary school teachers are male). It is a known fact that the lack of female teachers has a significant negative impact on girls’ attendance and learning in school, and reinforces low aspirations and confidence. With my experience, I have learned that many male teachers feel they have limited capacity to identify and respond to specific learning needs of the most marginalised girls.
Teachers often give more attention to boys within the classroom, asking them more questions, and girls’ learning is further hampered by teachers’ low expectations of girls’ intellectual skills. However, research has repeatedly demonstrated that girls respond better to – and are best motivated by – female teachers, particularly from a similar social background to themselves (Lloyd 2009), and that female teachers can improve security and perceptions of gender equity (Rawal et al 2007). “I have never had a black female teacher in school. Lucky for me in JSS3, I had a Canadian woman who sacrificed all she had to come change lives in Sierra Leone and trust me, that woman impacted my life greatly till now. This is however not possible for other young girls in Sierra Leone”, says Feremusu (not her real name). I too have never had a female teacher/lecturer up to University. The only places I have seen women in my school was either in the school clinic or in the school canteen/kitchen. Even when you chose to go for the Science stream, people would be surprised and begin to exclaim ‘what! Can you make it up in the Science, are you good at Maths?’ This had impacted me so badly from childhood telling me that even if I worked harder, there is no place for me in the advance areas, and the classroom because society has furnished all these only for men.
At Political Arenas
Having learned and forced to practice gender stereotype behaviors at home and in school, now women are forced to accept the reality in politics. In Sierra Leone for instance, women are hardly allowed to hold high political positions; they are even discouraged from aspiring. All women do is cook for events and organize parties. They are segregated and the only place they are opportune to participate is descried as “women’s wing”, but there has never been men’s wing. Also, I have never heard of a female national President. This alone clearly speaks volume of how women are made victims of gender stereotype in politics and in decision making. Even in Councils, the District and National Youth Council has a similar tradition. They have the chairman and the women’s wing leader and the women have little or no decision to make. All they do is organize events and cook for events – interesting right? To the little girl in my village, this means that no matter how she tries, there is no space for her in the decision table, and she begins to lose confidence in herself and take the back seat.
Also, most of our ministries both the head and deputy, are men. For instance, in the Ministry of Youth Affairs which anchors the facilitation of the future we all want as a nation, both the Minister and Deputy, as well as the Directors and Permanent secretary are men. Only a few are women and served only in secretary positions. In the Youth Commission, the Head and his deputy are both male! Same for the National Youth service. This can’t be coincidental; it is well planned since childhood and well executed clearly demonstrating that change is not here soon; women will continue to stay at the back no matter their qualifications or competence.
Governments with support from its partners need to fix up the educational systems because education is where the solution lies. School curriculum, textbooks and teachers’ training programs should be provided and reviewed. Gender stereotypes in our schools must end now!
NGO’s should establish and make easily available, more networking and scholarship opportunities to encourage more girls and women enrolment into STEM programmes or courses.
Government and NGO’s should ensure the role of teachers become essential in our communities when it comes to providing quality, gender-neutral education that promotes students’ welfare and respect for professional standards.
Youth groups should give equal opportunities to both young men and women, and encourage young girls to stand up for themselves, as the Country Director of Plan International Sierra Leone says “We can’t wait any longer to learn, Lead, Decide and Thrive”.
Political parties should give presidential candidacy and bigger opportunities to women. We have women who are capable of being ministers and heads of bigger institutions.