Is International Women's Day relevant for preschoolers?

Is International Women’s Day Relevant for Preschoolers?

Felicity Barclay

We have so many special “days” to celebrate these days. There’s the usual Mother’s Day, Father’s Day - but now there’s all sorts of health related days — world kidney day, world’s greatest shave, red nose day to name a few. Each important in their own right in terms of raising awareness and ultimately fund raising. There are environmental days - World Environment Day, Clean Up Australia Day and historically significant days - ANZAC Day, September 11 -the list could go on.

So, is International women’s day just another “day”? Why does or should it matter? And does it hold any relevance for preschool children?

Firstly some fast facts about IWD Day

  • Celebrated for over 100 years on March 8th
  • Originally, IWD began as a movement to advocate for better pay for women and voting rights.
  • These days IWD is a day where the achievements of women around the world are acknowledged and celebrated, it’s a day to empower women and girls around the world and an opportunity to encourage advocacy and action on issues of gender equality.
  • Pay equality is still a long way off — the original objectives of IWD are still relevant 100 years on! According to a 2017 report by the World Economic Forum, it could still take another 100 years before the global equality gap between men and women disappears entirely.
  • Each year there is a particular theme or focus of IWD - these have included Women Uniting for peace, World free of violence against women, Women and Decision making, Women and Human Rights, Investing in women and girls.This year in 2018 the theme is #Press for progress — with a focus on gender equality, celebrating the achievements of women, challenging stereotypes and bias, influencing the actions and beliefs of others, forging positive visability of women.

Like it or not we adults influence children….

Many of us can well remember a teacher who inspired us to become that writer/athlete/dancer/builder we always wanted to be.

Perhaps we have memories of a mum or dad who modelled care for other people - who always had their front door open for friends and neighbours.

Others may remember a teacher or parent who belittled, shamed or humiliated - this too leaving a darker legacy.

Parents and teachers alike have a responsibility for nurturing, influencing, and laying foundations for our children and young people.

The influence we have as parents or as teachers may be unintentional - I didn’t realise my daughter was watching me diet and was listening to me talk about my body shape for all these years or for teachers - I didn’t realise that my transition times were reinforcing gender stereotypes… If you are a boy — stamp your feet and head off outside — If you are a girl — put on your fairy wings and float outside….

We can however, counter some of the unintentionally negative or potentially damaging ways we influence children by being smart about it and by looking for opportunities to send positive, challenging messages and to lay a healthy, robust foundation for future learning and development.

Time for reflection

Ask yourself these questions…..

Teachers and educators may like to discuss these questions in a staff or team meeting. Jot the answers down and see where your ideas differ from or reflect those of your colleagues.

Parents may like to just quietly reflect on the questions or use them as an opportunity for discussion with your partner or other family members (Grandparents, extended family).

Parents

  • What sort of a daughter or son do I want to raise?
  • What values are important to me?
  • How can I encourage my child to reach his/her full potential?
  • How can I nurture a sense of compassion and kindness as well as strength and resilience in my son or daughter?
  • Are there times when I allow broader society to inform my thinking about what is “appropriate” or “worthwhile” for my son or daughter instead of listening to my child?

Teachers

  • What sort of people would I like the preschoolers in my class to grow into?
  • How can I help develop a sense of resilience in the girls and boys in my class?
  • How can I help the children in my class deal with play situations when they are excluded?
  • How can I help develop a sense of empathy in the children I am teaching/educating?
  • Are there times when I allow broader society to inform my thinking about what is “appropriate” or “worthwhile” for the children I am caring for and educating? How might I examine or explore this further?
  • Are there times when I subconsciously (or consciously) reinforce gender stereotypes?

So how is IWD relevant for preschoolers?

International women’s day has its origins in advocating for fairness — and equality. These values are still embedded in the IWD we know today.

Consider is fairness relevant for preschoolers? How about equality?

How about Personal and Family Safety? Leadership? Access to Education? Empowerment? Are these ideas relevant for preschoolers?

These too are all values or themes that are explored and advocated by the IWD movement.

Getting Intentional

The IWD website refers to IWD as belonging to “all groups collectively everywhere” and that “IWD is not country, group or organization specific."

IWD is internationally recognised — and parents, teachers and educators have an excellent opportunity to view this day as a springboard or a platform for intentionally introducing or reinforcing values or ideas or information about equity, and fairness, to challenge gender stereotypes, to remind girls and boys that they have the capacity to be whoever they want to be, to intentionally provide a counterpoint to pervasive gender stereotyping, to celebrate the achievements of women around the world, to role model and affirm curiosity, openness, bravery and perseverance along with compassion, resilience, empathy and determination for our girls and boys.

So how do we do this? How do we celebrate or “do” IWD with preschoolers? Some ideas…..

1. Talk about it — be factual — provide some information to the children in your life

Here are some words you can say….

  • “Did you know that today is International Women’s Day?”
  • “Who knows what the word “woman” means? …. Well did you know that today is a special day to think about some of the great and clever women in our world.?”
  • “For over 100 years we have had a special day to remember and think about women”

See where the conversation might take you…..

2. Read stories where there are girls in strong roles, or books which challenge gender stereotypes.

A quick internet search — try searching “Children’s stories for International women’s day” or “books to challenge stereotypes” or similar search terms and you’ll find a plethora of offerings.

Some titles to look out for include:

  • Hazel’s Amazing Mother — Rosemary Wells
  • The Paper bag Princess — Robert Munsch
  • Princess Pigsty — Cornelia Funke
  • Emily and the Dragon — Lyn Lee
  • Cindy-Ella — An Aussie Cinderella — Tom Champion
  • All the little Fathers — Margaret Wise-Brown

Teachers/Educators — talk to your colleagues — Parents talk to your friends and ask them to add to this list.

3. Acknowledge and recognise the women in your life

  • Ask your child/children in your class — Can you think of some women or girls in your life you’d like to make a card for or write a letter to? Why do you think they are special? Is there something they are really clever at? Let’s write those things down and let them know that we think they are great.
  • Plan to say thank you to some of the women in your community — “Let’s say thank you to the woman at the supermarket check out — she’s always so friendly and does a really important job”.
  • “Let’s make some biscuits and deliver them to the librarian — she is always so helpful and works hard at her job”.
  • “Let’s make a list or a picture wall for our classroom of all the girls and women we care for, or who we think are clever or special” (this provides an opportunity to gently challenge ideas that girls are only special based on looks or on gender stereotypical traits– try to introduce information about women or girls who are Scientists, sailors, police officers). You could also make a list or picture wall of men and boys — ensuring a balance of men in non stereotypical roles — nurses, dancers, cooks etc.
  • Donate or Raise Money/Fund Raise for a women’s charity or organisation
  • Is there a local women’s shelter or women’s not for profit organisation in your local area? How about raising some money for this organisation?

Here are some ideas to get you started

4. Visit the IWD website and check out the resources section

  • There are heaps of ideas for teachers — mainly for children a bit older than preschoolers, however they can provide a springboard for your own ideas.
  • Parents may also find some helpful resources for their school aged children on the site too.
  • Wear purple green and white on March 8th

Did you know that the colours for IWD are purple, green and white? The colours seem to date back to the 1900s when British Suffragette Emiline Pankhurst claimed them for her organisation — the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Purple stood for “the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette”; white was an emblem of “purity in private and public life”; and green represented “hope and the emblem of spring.”

While connections with royalty or images of purity might not resonate so much with women or feminists of today — the colours are still closely associated with IWD — so purple green and white it up on March the 8th — it could be a great conversation starter! Organisers of IWD events often suggest a purple ribbon as being a symbol of alignment or solidarity too.

You might even consider taking a purple, green and white decorated cake into the staffroom for morning tea — a gentle approach to advocacy — after all — who doesn’t love cake?

5. Check out IWD events in your local area

Parents, you may like to consider taking your child to an IWD rally — or teachers, grab some friends and see what events might be of interest to you. I have long thought that we become better teachers if we have rich and diverse life experiences. So even if rallies, marches or IWD events might not usually be your thing, give it a go in the name of research. You then have a wonderful opportunity to share a little bit of your experience with colleagues and with the children you are caring for and educating- another opportunity to present children with ideas and viewpoints that might be different from their own lived experience, important for growing strong, resilient, compassionate and empathetic people.

6. Provide some information for parents and families in your preschool or childcare centre

  • Include a section in your school /preschool newsletter about IWD
  • Set up a noticeboard display with information about IWD and positive quotes about women with some copies of fact sheets and articles for parents (see photo at end of this article for my example)
  • Feature a book display if you have a borrowing library of books for parents about issues pertaining to raising daughters or about the gendered nature of toys — be creative!

7. Brainstorm your own ideas

What else could you do to acknowledge International Women’s Day? Share this article with your team (or friends) and discuss it. Are there any challenges for you? What are they? Are there other special ‘days’ or community events throughout the year that might provide you with further opportunities to be deliberate and intentional about raising issues ‘that matter’ with your child or the children you are teaching? For teachers/educators — consider your context — your local community. I happen to work in a preschool next door to Lifeline. It makes sense to pay attention to and acknowledge their end of year Christmas Hamper appeal. Are there particular cultural events that are of particular significance among the parents and children with whom you work? Or for parents — what about the neighbours around you? I can still recall learning for the first time as a child that some families have shrines in their homes because my Grandpa lived next door to a Hindu family. A great opportunity for discussion and learning.

However, don’t be confined or restrained by the local or familiar. There is a whole wide world out there and as teachers and educators I believe we have an imperative to be responsive not just to our local context but also to the wider community, to consider national and international events, celebrations, movements.

Some final thoughts

Over the 30 years I have been working in Early Childhood Education I have met many educators, teachers and parents or more recently have read many online discussions where concerns are raised by those who feel that there are some topics that are ‘too adult’ for children. ‘This is too political for children’. If we consider that one definition for “politics” is “The process of making decisions that applies to a group” — (Wikipedia) then perhaps this may help us to see that children are indeed in the thick of a number of political systems (families, child care, preschools, friendship groups to name a few). Equipping them with information — handled sensibly and sensitively about real life issues and the world in which they live will ultimately help to lay foundations for the development of people who are curious about the world, people who have empathy — the capacity to ‘wear the shoes of another’. As for International Women’s Day — I’m not suggesting we sit around in our kitchens or on the mat at preschool for a bra burning ceremony! However, given that approximately 49.6% of the world’s population are women, who presumably all started off as children — then perhaps we might begin a rethink or a new conversation about the relevance of IWD for preschoolers.

Who knows? Maybe you might be that teacher, that child care worker, that mum, dad or grandparent who lights the spark in a child or even a future generation that could lead to change for the better — to a more compassionate, equitable, just future for all.

Helpful links and resources

Ideas for International Women's Day

IWD Teacher resources

Global Footprints IWD

UN - IWD History

Felicity Barclay