Early Childhood

Early Gender Socialization

© UNICEF/ HQ99-0849/ LeMoyne
Two women from the Dao ethnic group, carrying children on their backs, in Lason Commune, Ha Nam, Viet Nam.

It is generally accepted that early gender socialization is one of the most pertinent issues in early childhood, affecting both boys and girls.  The foundations for stereotypes in gender roles are laid through early gender socialization.

Early gender socialization starts at birth and it is a process of learning cultural roles according to one's sex. Right from the beginning, boys and girls are treated differently by the members of their own environment, and learn the differences between boys and girls, women and men. Parental and societal expectations from boys and girls, their selection of gender-specific toys, and/or giving gender based assignments seem to define a differentiating socialization process that can be termed as "gender socialization".  There are numerous examples from varied parts of the world confirming that gender socialization is intertwined with the ethnic, cultural, and religious values of a given society. And gender socialization continues throughout the life cycle.

Gender socialization is the process by which people learn to behave in a certain way, as dictated by societal beliefs, values, attitudes and examples.  Gender socialization begins as early as when a woman becomes pregnant and people start making judgments about the value of males over females.  These stereotypes are perpetuated by family members, teachers and others by having different expectations for males and females.

Imagine the following scenario: a young pregnant woman is about to have her first child.  When asked whether she wishes to have a girl or boy, she replies that it doesn’t matter.  But, sitting next to her is an older relative who says “Oh, hopefully it will be a boy.”  In small, but meaningful ways such as this, gender socialization starts even before birth. 

Children start facing norms that define “masculine” and “feminine” from an early age.  Boys are told not to cry, not to fear, not to be forgiving and instead to be assertive, and strong.  Girls on the other hand are asked not to be demanding, to be forgiving and accommodating and “ladylike”.  These gender roles and expectations have large scale ramifications.  In many parts of the world, girls face discrimination in the care they receive in terms of their access to nutritious foods and health care, leading them to believe that they deserve to be treated differently than boys.  The degree of gender differences observed varies in all cultures in respect to infant, toddler and young child health, nutrition, care developmental activities, education, hygiene and protection.

UNICEF, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, advocates for gender equality and equity in care, protection and development of all children. 




 Printer friendly

New enhanced search