Overcoming the Gender Gap: Starting Small

Home / Blog / Edu / Overcoming the Gender Gap: Starting Small20 Ottobre 2021Overcoming the Gender Gap: Starting Small

In 2015, the UN member countries (193 in total) signed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an action program for people, the planet and prosperity based on 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Overcoming the idea that sustainability only concerns environmental issues, the goal’s plans are focused on proposing a new development model that also integrates social and economic dimensions (such as the Gender Gap). All countries are called upon to respond by making the best use of available resources despite the inevitable differences achieved between the levels of development in richer and less advanced areas.

Goal 5 of the program is gender equality: according to the report “The Gender Snapshot 2019,” in less advanced countries there has been progress such as the significant decline in the practice of female genital mutilation and early marriages (in particular, the latter phenomenon has sharply decreased in South Asia), or the increase in womens’ presence in national and international governing bodies in advanced countries. Despite this, various forms of discrimination of are still strongly present: women are still hindered in their right to health, especially regarding sexuality and reproduction; even in countries where by law there should be no differences between the sexes, decision-making and power roles are still the prerogative of men and the Gender Pay Gap is noted, that is, a disparity in economic pay based on gender.

(Source: OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2019)


In the IPSOS survey “Stereotypes and Gender Inequalities” conducted in November 2018 on a sample of 1300 people aged between 16 and 70, Italy seems to be judged capable of guaranteeing equal access to education (according to 67% of the interviewees) and to equal treatment (66%). However, the opinion of the interviewees shows that gender equality is not guaranteed with regard to access to work and the achievement of a fair remuneration for the work performed (27%). Although the level of education for women is significantly higher than that of men, 22.4% of women are graduates against 16.8% of men, the female employment rate is much lower (56.1% against 76, 8%). To confirm this, Istat data found that the employment collapse that occurred after the two lockdowns has exacerbated the disparities: of the 444,000 fewer employed persons registered in Italy, 70% are women.

The gender gap needs to be bridged between desks

Gender stereotypes on intellectual abilities influence children very early: “Con gli occhi delle bambine,” (“With the Eyes of Girls”) Save the Children’s atlas, argues that stereotypes begin to be absorbed in elementary schools, putting girls in the position of doubting their abilities and avoiding those games or activities perceived as particularly complex.

At the age of four, boys and girls are aware of the different expectations regarding their behavior. Irene Biemmi, teacher of pedagogy at the University of Florence, in “Educazione sessista” (“Sexist Education”), writes: “These crossroads do not necessarily coincide with great choices, on the contrary, they are often passed without even realizing it, almost out of inertia: preparing a pink layette for the baby girl and blue for the baby boy becomes a simple routine act, as well as buying a doll for the girl and a car for the boy, or again, scolding the girl for being too busy and stimulating the boy to be active, mocking the boy who cries because he acts like a ‘sissy’ and at the same time accepting it as natural that it is the girl who expresses her feelings and weaknesses.”

The stereotype is reinforced by images in the media, games, and children’s books. The school, a place that should train pupils and teach them to unhinge prejudices, instead risks doing the opposite: in textbooks, men and women as protagonists of important historical or scientific events are not equally represented. In the stories about 60% of protagonists are male while 37% are female figures.

Games are also subject to genderization: that is, they are characterized so that the reference genre is immediately clear. A toy is gendered when it has different models for boys and girls: the color or images of other children represented on the package, for example. In the women’s department there are therefore dolls, miniature appliances, baby dolls to look after, games that refer to the domestic-family environment or references to the cult of traditional and stereotyped beauty; in the male one, racing cars, building blocks, superheroes, weapons and games that in general refer to adventure, manual skills or violence.

Genderization has a great influence on children, limiting their potential, their way of perceiving themselves and others, their actions and it marginalizes those who do not feel they are re-entering traditionally established roles.

Among the objectives included in the “National Plan on Recovery and Restart,” the European Next Generation, the Italian government has also included overcoming gender inequalities through an intervention on the womens’ participation in the world of work, access to financial resources and decision-making positions. In light of the foregoing, it would also be useful to include in this plan a specific investment dedicated to girls, such as scholarships and training plans, to promote the acquisition of confidence in their abilities and foster their aspirations. Betting on women, from an early age, could help the country emerge from the crisis.

Girls in STEM

The reiteration of stereotypes reinforces them, having consequences on the study and career choices made by girls, who are caged in a sort of formative self-segregation: only 16% of those enrolled at a university undertake courses in technical-scientific fields, against 37% of their male counterparts. Most female students prefer to study the humanities.

Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD, argues that due to gender stereotypes “talent is wasted”: boys and girls already begin fantasizing about their occupation in elementary school, but mostly consider those professional figures with whom they are surrounded and are already familiar. Therefore, the importance of fair representation of female figures in STEM becomes clear, even in textbooks or toy departments.

Although effective parity is still a long way off, many initiatives to break the glass ceiling are taking hold, and are aimed precisely at childhood education. Inspiring Girls is an international project that aims to encourage girls to follow their dreams and open their horizons. By collaborating with schools, they bring Role Models into elementary classes, female figures who have embarked on uncommon careers, to show girls (and boys) life choices different from those they are used to. Listening to these out-of-the-ordinary experiences, or simply outside the ordinary female representation, students approach little-known fields.

Every summer, Inspiring Girls organizes the Summer STEM Academy: a summer school that allows full immersion in STEM subjects, with activities designed to develop soft skills and reflect on the value of diversity.

In 2013, NarrAzioni Differenti, a collective blog, revived the campaign “Discrimination is not a game,” launched for the first time in Chile by Medusa Colectivo. Through stickers that can be attached to toys’ packaging, those who are openly sexist and propose a clear division of gender roles or propose misleading and unnatural aesthetic canons are reported. This is but one way to help those who want to buy gender neutral, with the awareness that the most important task of a toy is to stimulate creativity, learning and give a sense of infinite possibilities.


Testo originale: Francesca Sordelli / Traduzione: Peter Briggs

Cover Image Credit: The Met (Object: 312237 / Accession Number: 1979.206.440)

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