What does International Women’s Day have to do with early childhood education and care? Everything!
From its beginnings in women’s labour protests in the early twentieth century, to its adoption by the UN in 1977, International Women’s Day has long been a day to agitate and celebrate, and to reflect on the struggles and victories of the feminist movement.
Early childhood is a highly feminised profession, which is partly due to a cultural understanding of women as the natural caregivers of our species. Although ideas about the role of women in society have morphed greatly over recent decades, this particular cultural understanding has been hard to shift or expand.
The devaluation of child-rearing – that it is easy, intuitive and natural, and therefore not “real” work – has wide-reaching impacts for our sector, including dismal pay rates, and a lack of recognition of our professional expertise.
The highly gendered nature of our work doesn’t just affect cis women, but also cis men, non-binary and trans folk, and people of all genders. For example, many men in the sector are treated suspiciously due to ill-founded “child protection” fears (McGirr, McFadyen & Gallen, 2020).
At the other extreme, men are often enthusiastically welcomed and celebrated just by virtue of being a man in a highly feminised sector, rather than because of their particular professional experience and expertise. (Think of how few times you’ve heard someone say “it’s great to have a strong female role model for the children”!!)
The gender politics that shape our experience as workers also shape our work with young children. As Smith, Campbell and Alexander (2020) say in The Anti-Bias Approach in Early Childhood (4th ed.):
“There are many . . . ways of knowing ourselves and the world, and these produce a range of effects. Translated into the everyday politics of classroom life, this means some ways of being a boy or girl are more possible, desirable and powerful than others.” (p.61)
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on how gender and gender inequality influence our relationship to the sector, to one another, and to the children and families we work with. It’s also a time to join your union, organise with your co-workers, and agitate for change!
- As a child, was there one event or moment when you experienced someone telling you how to behave based on gender? How did you feel in this moment? (Smith, Campbell & Alexander, 2020)
- How do your understandings of gender influence the language you use, what you notice and how you respond to interactions between children and between adults in and out of the classroom? (Smith, Campbell & Alexander, 2020)
- What can an anti-bias approach illuminate about the status of early childhood education and care in our society, and how we can advocate for better quality, better funding, better pay and better conditions?
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