In many ways, gender norms and stereotypes have far-reaching societal influence and are detrimental to the lives of children and youth. By prescribing what a “boy” or “girl” should be and how they should behave, they limit young people’s freedom and choices in all areas of life and cause added struggles. Indeed, harmful gender norms and stereotypes have very concrete consequences. They lead to discrimination and perpetuation of gender-based violence and other harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Because of these insidious effects, gender stereotypes must be addressed at all levels and by all relevant actors. Leah, one of EWAG’s Youth Advocates, illustrates the consequences of harmful gender norms with the perpetuation of FGM. In her experience, FGM is linked to gender norms, to the idea of what it is to be a woman, in this situation girls are also perpetrators. It shows that victims and perpetrators of gender norms are blurred.
We cannot underestimate the prevalence of harmful stereotypes. Gender matters in most everyday realities – in education, work, family and relationships, health, leisure, determination of identity, and social life. Despite some positive changes in discourse and society , gender stereotypes remain deeply ingrained, vivid and consistent. Moreover, it is important to notice that although they concern everyone, gender norms affect people differently depending on their identity. Other factors such as sexuality, race, socio-economic status and ability play a critical role in how stereotypes and gender norms impact the lives of individuals. For example, a white man may be able to subvert more gender norms without material consequences than a black woman who may have less access to resources and opportunities as a result.
“It is important to include Youth in the discussion [about harmful gender norms and stereotypes] so that decision-makers understand the reality and can be sensitized to topics that can be considered taboo like FGM.” (Leah)
The Youth Advocates wanted to highlight the necessity for decision-makers to have a complete and full understanding of harmful gender norms and stereotypes to effectively tackle this issue. For Jennifer, decision-makers need to see the facts and need to be more grassroots-focused. She also believes that the education of children is key “because breaking down stereotypes encourages them to take up different paths in life according to what they really want”. Gender norms and stereotypes need to be addressed everywhere, at the political level, in school, at home and even in Church, Temples and in Mosques. Approaching them from every angle is key to creating a world where every child feels free to be what they want to be.