Gender Respect Project 2013-2016

Aiming to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence.

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Project Leader Blog: Helen

Gender Equality Books for Children

This is a list of recommended books put together from DECSY’s Resource Centre. I chose good quality books that related to gender equality in different ways. Most of the books challenge gender stereotyping in one way or another whether by offering alternative roles, jobs or behaviour. Some of the fiction books are chosen because of the strong central female character(s), many of them also reflect ethnic diversity or are set in countries of the global South. Biographies of famous women are included. It was harder to find books that portrayed alternative ways to be a boy or gender fluidity in general but these are included where they have been found. The recommended age groups are, of course approximate. There is a huge list of ‘girl-empowering’ books (and other media) on the American A Mighty Girl website although many of these are not available in the UK and have an obvious US bias. Please do get in touch if you have any other books to recommend.

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Project Leader Blog: Heather

International Women’s Day in Sheffield

There were many events in Sheffield to celebrate International Women’s Day. One I particularly enjoyed was a singing and dancing event hosted by Body of Sound, the choir I sing in, on Saturday 12th March at Sharrow Old School. We were joined by women singers and dancers from the Karen community, refugees from Myanmar who have been in Sheffield for ten years, and Sage, a women’s choir which has developed from the Sage Green Fingers allotment project for people experiencing mental health difficulties.

Ingrid Hanson shared two of her poems with us all. Ingrid told me that this one, ‘Dress Sense’ was inspired by the issues when her son was nine and wanted to dress up as a girl for a fancy dress day at school. I really liked it and thought it might resonate with parents and teachers who want to protect young boys from being laughed at but also want them to be able to express themselves freely. The story has a happy ending: the boy’s head teacher, on seeing the boy dressed as a girl, welcomed him warmly, saying how wonderful he looked. Everyone had a grand time. I think it is a good example of the powerful influence head teachers and all teachers have in cultivating a creative ethos around masculinities and challenging gender stereotypes.


Dress Sense

My son is nine and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


My son is nine and has long blond hair

and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


My son is nine and likes dragons and swords

and tales of fighting and valour, mystery and crime

and Sherlock Holmes and the young James Bond


and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


My son is nine and hoards coins and stones

and bits of string and words like discombobulate.

He reads books adorned with mythical creatures

and ancient runes in which the battles turn out well,

baddies are defeated and boy and beast

live in harmony together forever


and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


My son is nine and wants to be a scientist

like Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton.

He’ll build his own lab, invent something amazing

that no-one has ever quite thought of before.

He’s thrilled by the Hadron Collider,

by stars and quarks and the way that black holes work.


My son is nine and believes in magic

and the triumph of good over evil

and he waits in hope for the call to Hogwarts


and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school


and nobody wants to let him.


Because boys don’t dress up as girls,

not even for fun, it just isn’t done.

Everyone will laugh, his best friend explains,

People might laugh, his teacher agrees,

and I daren’t even think

what his grandfather would say

if he knew which he won’t

but I remember the cautionary tales

of hippy mothers who ruin their sons

by sending them to school

in clothes that aren’t cool

so I warn him: people might laugh


– although I think he looked great

when he tried it at home

prancing in the front room

in his sister’s red dress

and a pair of tights wrinkling up his legs,

his face alight with blusher and eagerness.


My son is nine and he doesn’t care

what Everyone thinks

and he doesn’t want to be a girl,

but he likes trinkets and pinks and sparkly jewels

and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


He knows and I know that some little girl

will dress up in moss-green trousers

with a bow and arrow

and a hat with a feather stuck in sideways

and perhaps a Disney logo on the breast of her shirt

and everyone will admire the little Robin Hood

and no-one – no-one – will even think of telling her

she shouldn’t dress like a boy

because now we all know, at least when they’re nine,

that girls can be whoever they like,

can be just as good as boys and do the things boys do.


But no boy will be Hermione or the Little Mermaid

or Pocahontas or Beauty or Rihanna

or a princess.


Because boys don’t do that.

He really mustn’t do that:

it might make him less of a man

at nine

and less of a man

for ever

and worst of all – worst of all –

Everyone will laugh.

How will he live it down?


My son is nine and he wants to dress like a girl

for the fancy-dress day at school.


My son is nine and he wants to dress like a girl for the

my son is nine and he wants to dress like a

my son is nine and he wants to

my son is nine and he

my son is nine

my son is nine

and he can

dress in



he fancies

for the







I’ll be the evil accomplice.


By Ingrid Hanson


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Teacher Blog: Rebecca (and Clive)

Boys’ Talk

The Boys’ Talk lesson (see Secondary lesson plans) was trialled with a Y10 class of 13 pupils (9 male and 2 female), all deemed of fairly low ability.

They engaged well with discussions about harassment and sexual harassment, coming up with good ideas and examples. When looking at the ‘Vital Statistics’ from Everyday Sexism (by Laura Bates), there were some derogatory comments about India.

Forum Theatre:

The script provoked a lot of discussion, with several boys saying this was an unlikely conversation, that boys did not talk like this, that they would not get involved etc. When asked, the girls confirmed that ‘slag’ was the most common word they heard around school attached to girls. The boys seemed to think that a girl was a slag from the way she dressed. A definition was given for the word slag ‘A woman who people disapprove of because she has had a lot of sexual partners.’ (Cambridge English Dictionary) and that this had nothing to do with dress.

For the plenary, comments about what the pupils had learned were:

‘Harassment is very bad and needs to stop.’

‘What sexual harassment is.’

‘The meaning of different types of harassment.’

‘I have learned what harassment is and how to stop it.’

‘I learned today what (slag) means.’

‘You can also in school if it is something of discriminating women.’

‘I have learned what is the importance of women and how to treat them.’

In discussion afterwards, Rebecca felt she needed to do more with them on how to challenge views without escalating into a fight (a concern amongst the boys) and to find ways to give the girls more of a voice and get the boys to see issues from their perspectives. She felt that these pupils were used to seeing issues in extremes, and perhaps a topic like FGM might get consensus on what is ‘wrong’ in gender relations and build from there.

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Involving Men and Boys in Promoting Gender Equality


The call for increased gender equality is not a lone call given out by a small group of feminists but a recognised global plea from International Institutions like the UN, to pursue a sustainable and fairer world.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, has invested many resources into their campaign for ‘Engaging Men and Boys’ in gender equality. They state that ‘Women cannot achieve gender equality and sexual and reproductive health without the cooperation and participation of men.’1

They believe that because men are situated at the top of the gender tree, the best way to tackle the structural issue of gender inequality is to engage the agents that live within it. For example, it is normally men who are the leaders, politically and socially or the heads of departments and the military; the ones who have more varied sexual relations; the ones that use contraceptives more as well as being husbands and fathers, giving them incredible power over women’s lives.

Men’s involvement is vital

Despite prevailing rhetoric about manhood, many men find the socially-constructed gender stereotypes an incredible burden to bear; hence men have much to gain from a gender equal society. To be ‘manly’ the stereotype emphasises the need to be ‘tough’ or be the ‘breadwinner’ resulting in many men internationally being forced into labour conditions that are harsh and sometimes involve injury, violence, imprisonment and sometimes even death especially within the military service, policing and fire fighting.

The wrong image of masculinity can lead men to engage in unsafe sex that jeopardizes their partners’ and their own well-being. ‘Men are victims of many forms of personal and institutional violence – primarily at the hands of other men – and have a great deal to gain from moving towards gender equality: it is an important step towards reducing violence.’2

It is also argued that because of this gender stereotype men miss out on a whole array of emotions and experiences that are’ immensely rewarding and socially valued’ due to gender stereotyping.3

In most cultures, men playing a role of a carer for their children, older or sick parents or showing their vulnerabilities is seen as an alien concept, even though many western women would gladly admit that they desire these qualities in men. However, the suppression of emotions can be deeply harmful to a man’s health.

  • Real Men Can Handle Their Booze: this attitude is part of the reason why men have more than four times as many binge drinking episodes per year than women, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).4 Binge drinking leads to health problems, including heart disease, liver failure, mental health issues, and even an increased risk of cancer.
  • Real Men Are Never Vulnerable: ignoring pain or not showing that you are ill can be very detrimental to health. Michael Addis, PhD, professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, explains that ‘Emotional stoicism can lead men to ignore signs of depression, anxiety, or other signs that all may not be well in life,’ caused by extreme self-reliance.5 This can also lead to relationship issues and marital divorce.
  • Real Men Are a Turn-on for Women: Sex is seen to be important for true manliness to be achieved. However, men have a 5.5 times higher rate of syphilis than women and account for 75 % of new HIV/AIDS cases, according to statistics from Avert, an international HIV/AIDS charity.6

Getting to the root of the problem

To be effective in recognising gender roles and inequality, it has to be acknowledged that these roles are dependent on social contexts in which cultural, religious, economic, political and social circumstances play a part. Once this is accepted, it is easier to understand that these gender roles are malleable. Cultures change, societies evolve and the perception of gendered positions can be altered for men and for women alike.

If ideas about manhood are deeply ingrained from an early age, then the place to start evolving these ideas is in the home within families. However this is far easier said than done. Therefore, the platform for change can be within the classroom and in communities where classrooms are not present. If a child is not taught anything different, then their views on how to be a man or how to interact with women will cement the gender stereotype.

Therefore, boys and young men should be encouraged to reflect upon and discuss issues surrounding masculinity, relationships and sexuality in order to help them understand who they want to be. If they want to be big and strong then that is their choice to be that person but their attitude to other people’s decisions, especially to their peers should be one of respect. This also applies to a boy’s view of a girl. Women who choose to be more feminine or masculine should be allowed to. They should have the chance to express themselves and be respected for their autonomy.

International Programmes for Gender Equality

The UNFPA have been focusing on challenging gender stereotypes through different international programmes including:

  • In the Dominican Republic, barbers were the conduit for getting messages about prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections to almost half a million men.
  • A project in the Philippines targeted an educational campaign about reproductive health issues to men, who are often the gatekeepers to their wives’ access to health services. Seminars and workshops gave men a chance to talk more openly about sensitive issues with their partners.
  • In Uganda, UNFPA has successfully partnered with male opinion leader leaders in the country’s complex culture – including elders, kings, bishops and imams – to promote healthier behaviours and end harmful traditional practices.7
  • The Men and Gender Equality Policy Project, seeks to build the evidence base on how to change public institutions and policies to better foster gender equality and to raise awareness among policymakers and programme planners of the need to involve men in health, development and gender equality issues. It is a multi-country research and advocacy initiative that has been carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) India, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Rwanda and South Africa (as of November 2012). Men Who Care

By Alexandra Williams



2 p.2

3 Ibid

4 ‘Why Being a Macho, Macho Man Is Bad for Your Health’

5 Ibid

6 Ibid

7 p.3