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”It is well established that we treat children differently”

Girls and boys are still treated differently, and change will not be possible without a political willingness. Researcher Mia Heikkilä’s message was clear during a Nordic Forum seminar on gender equality work in Nordic schools and preschools.

Foto seminariumet Duktiga flickor kostar inte. Foto: Charlie Olofsson
 The seminar. Photo: Charlie Olofsson

‘This form was sent home to families in Malmö today,’ said Kristina Hultberg, who works with gender in schools, and showed the audience a family information form with one field for mum and one field for dad.
The City of Malmö has launched a project for gender equality in school and preschool, and representatives from the project talked about the progress made during a seminar at the Nordic Forum.
The way official forms are designed can give a good indication of prevailing norms, said Hultberg.
‘It’s very concrete and raises questions about how we talk about families,’ she said during the seminar, where participants from Nordic countries discussed gender equality work in education.

Researcher Mia Heikkilä talked about the results presented in a report on sustainable gender equality work in Nordic schools and preschools ¬– Hållbart jämställdhetsarbete i förskolan och skolan i Norden. The report shows that effective steering documents are critical to successful gender equality work. It is important that the school legislation and national curricula are supportive of the work, said Heikkilä. She added that revised steering documents for the school sector are underway in Iceland, and that Finland and Denmark should follow suit.
Cecilie Nørgaard, consultant on gender perspectives in education and culture, feels that Denmark in particular is falling behind the other Nordic countries.
‘We have a lot to learn, especially in the work against gender stereotypes. In Denmark it is still a legitimate standpoint that women are one way and men another,’ she said.
She believes it is important to lift the status of gender equality work and gender research.
‘Right now it’s not considered a field of knowledge but rather a field of opinions.’

Norm-critical approach needs to evolve

Heikkilä’s study shows that the gender equality work differs across the Nordic countries. Her report points to several positive examples but also weaknesses.
‘The study shows that intersectional approaches remain uncommon, and that’s a problem,’ she said.
Lisa Andersson Tegnér also pointed to the need for more norm criticism in schools and preschools. Instead of encouraging tolerance, the teachers should help children question what is considered normal, she said.
‘The approach of teaching tolerance is sometimes like hanging one of those reflective vests on certain children, for example on Oscar because he joined a dance class,’ she explained during the seminar.
The first step in a norm-critical approach, she said, is to acknowledge how you, as a teacher, take part in creating norms.
‘We have to be self-critical and talk about what we see in ourselves, even if it can be a hard thing to do. It is well established that we treat children differently, and now it’s time to step up and show some responsibility.’

Updated 26 September 2020