Great divide: Youth back gender equality, but stereotypes persist, study finds

TORONTO – Despite widespread support for gender equality, some Canadians still subscribe to stereotypical views surrounding the roles of men and women, a new report suggests.

Canadian youth aged 12 to 17 and adults took part in online surveys commissioned by Plan Canada. The findings explore perceptions and stereotypes about gender.

More than 1,000 youth were polled, with 91 per cent responding that equality between men and women is good for both boys and girls. Some 96 per cent believe girls should have the same opportunities and rights as boys to make their own choices in life, while 95 per cent think parents must take equal responsibility for their children.

“On the one hand, Canadian youth support gender equality,” said Karen Craggs-Milne, senior gender adviser at Plan Canada. “On the other hand, they’re still held back by traditional gender stereotypes.”

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The survey found 31 per cent of the boys believe that a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family, while 48 per cent of youth think men should be responsible for earning income and providing for the family.

While 78 per cent of youth surveyed disagree with the statement “boys should not cry,” 77 per cent of youth believe boys are likely to be made fun of if they shed tears.

More Canadian youth believe boys are likely to be made fun of if they play with dolls (92 per cent) than if they wear pink (62 per cent) or are bad at sports (57 per cent).

Craggs-Milne said there were similar views among adults surrounding gender inequality and perpetuation of traditional stereotypes and roles.

Forty-three per cent of the adult respondents said men should be responsible for earning income and providing for the family, while 24 per cent believe a woman’s most important role is taking care of her home and cooking. Roughly one in eight adults surveyed believe boys are more likely to be made fun of if they cry.

As for sources of pressure to conform to traditional stereotypes, Craggs-Milne said 66 per cent of youth felt it from peers and friends and one-third from family. Nearly half felt pressure from media.

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“These findings kind of support the same linkages here in terms of the important role that family plays and the close network of friends play in terms of perpetuating inequality, but also being an entry point for change.”

For example, Craggs-Milne said their research shows that when men are active parents, take an interest in their children’s work, and treat their wives as equal partners, both boys and girls benefit.

Research also shows getting kids into early years’ education and having boys and girls complete secondary education has a huge impact in terms of reducing risky behaviour that boys take on, and the likelihood that girls will engage later in sexual activity.

Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, ambassador for Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl, said in addition to the need for education, conversations surrounding gender and esteem issues need to begin at home.

“I read a lot on self-esteem issues and a mother has more impact on the self-esteem of her daughter than peer pressure or media or television,” she said in a phone interview from Montreal.

The unveiling of survey findings Thursday coincided with the release of Plan International’s latest report on the state of the world’s girls, which focuses this year on the roles of boys and men in global solutions to gender inequality.

Craggs-Milne said among the notable inspiring stories is that of Nixon Odoyo. The 16-year-old Kenyan’s father left home, and his mother, who had never been to school, struggled to meet her kids’ needs. He then saw his sister married at 15 and forced to drop out of school. Odoyo’s childhood experiences led him to become a campaigner for girls’ education.

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The report’s eight-point action plan includes:

– Pre-school education promoting equality between girls and boys and involving parents

– Transforming school curricula to challenge stereotypes and acknowledge difference

– Supporting girls’ and boys’ participation in the creation of policies to improve sex education

-Making schools safe for girls and boys

– Launching campaigns that challenge discrimination and engage men and boys

– Passing laws that enable both parents to take an active part in raising their children

– Enforce legislation to end violence against women and girls

– Legislate for equal opportunities

“If we don’t think that men and boys are part of the solution in this battle for gender equality for the balance between who we are as humans, we’re undermining their minds and their spirits,” said Gregoire-Trudeau. “They need to be part of the equation.”