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  • Gender equality (sometimes inaccurately referred to as equality between men and women): refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of all people, regardless of gender.
  • Gender equality in society is not directly related to identity issues, but efforts are made to reduce the negative impact of gender inequality and the myths and stereotypes that maintain it on the development of individuals.
  • Breaking down gender stereotypes from a young age helps to stop negative consequences of inequality and discrimination as it can support children to grow into adults who are not limited by expectations based on their gender.
  • Since gender roles, responsibilities and identities are socially learned, they can also be changed through education.
  • When talking about gender equality, it should be kept in mind that rigid gender norms negatively affect people with diverse identities, who often come into contact with violence, shaming and discrimination. It is therefore more inclusive and appropriate to use the term “gender equality” rather than “equality of men and women”.


Gender equality in society is not directly related to identity issues, but efforts are made to reduce the negative impact of gender inequality and the myths and stereotypes that maintain it on the development of individuals.

Gender education is a necessary part of curricula at all levels of the education system, which would enable both girls and boys, women and men in their diversity to understand how constructions of masculinities and femininities and models for assigning social roles – which shape our societies – influence their lives, relationships, life choices, career trajectories, etc (Council of Europe, 2007).

The aim of the following text is to support teachers for discussing with students about gender equality, inequality and gender norms, roles, and gender stereotypes in society.


Gender is a social and cultural construct, which distinguishes differences in the attributes of men and women, girls, and boys, and accordingly refers to the roles and responsibilities of men and women. Gender-based roles and other attributes, therefore, change over time and vary with different cultural contexts. The concept of gender includes the expectations held about the characteristics, aptitudes and likely behaviours of both women and men (femininity and masculinity). This concept is useful in analysing how commonly shared practices legitimize discrepancies between sexes (UNICEF, 2017).

EIGE defines gender that refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed, and valued in a woman or a man in each context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age (European Institute for Gender Equality, n.d.-a; UNESCO and UN Women, 2016). What is gender equality?

Gender equality (sometimes inaccurately referred to as equality between men and women) refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of all people, regardless of gender (i.e., women, men and non-binary people). Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women, men and non-binary people. Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centred development (European Institute for Gender Equality, n.d.-a).

Progress towards achieving gender equality is measured by looking at the representation of men and of women in a range of roles on the base of data of sex -disaggregated indicators of economic, cultural, and social spheres. Legislatives currently do not take non-binary people into account, as most countries at EU level do not acknowledge non-binary gender identities.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) EU Gender Equality Index (European Institute for Gender Equality, n.d.-b) provides an easily interpretable measure of gender equality in the EU across 6 key policy domains – work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, and two satellite domains (violence and intersecting inequalities). A number of international comparative gender equality indices also exist showing differences in the situations of women and men, offering a way to compare achievements of countries.

The statistical data provided by sex make it possible to highlight differences in the lives of women and men, girls, and boys. When analysing the causes of inequality on the basis of statistical (factual) differences between women and men, different social norms, rules, gender roles, attitudes, stereotypical expectations, which apply to women and men must be considered. However, the statistics do not include information about trans and non-binary people. The concept of sex is biological while gender is the cultural or social interpretation of sex (Cole, 2019).

In every society, the expectations of gender norms and roles are different, i.e., what is expected, what is allowed and valued for women and what is expected, what is allowed and valued for men are different.

Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born female or male. The opposite concept of gender equality is inequality.

Gender inequality refers to situations where legal, social, and cultural situation in which sex and/or gender determine different rights and opportunities for women and men, which are reflected in their unequal access to or enjoyment of rights, as well as the assumption of stereotyped social and cultural roles. These affect their status in all areas of life in society, whether public or private, in the family or the labour market, in economic or political life, in power and decision-making, as well as in social gender relations. In virtually all societies, women are in an inferior position to men (European Institute for Gender Equality, n.d.-c).

Differences in women’s and men’s behaviour, social roles, rights, duties, responsibilities, and opportunities do not result from immutable biological-physiological differences but are socially constructed – so it can be said that both individuals and all societal institutions, processes, practices, symbols, and other factors produce and maintain gender differences and often gender inequality.

The opposing differences between girls and boys are not innate and predetermined, but these differences and inequalities are created by different worlds of experience. For example, boys are given more freedom in behaviour and self-expression; girls’ progress is explained by their diligence and boys by their talent; girls’ failure is interpreted as lack of talent, while boys’ failure to perform or poor performance may be attributed to laziness. Boys are more likely to be associated with stereotypical characteristics such as activity, thirst for success, aggressiveness, noisiness, etc. Girls, on the other hand, are seen as obedient, affectionate, sensitive, and more obedient to teachers’ orders. These expectations are also perceived by the children, who behave according to them (Haridus ja sugu, n.d.).

For example, the ways in which teachers speak to male and female students plays a role in how girls and boys learn to view each other. The inferior position of women in society is often reflected through language. Sexist language is the language which is outright sexist such as ‘Man up’ or telling a boy or girl that they run, cry or throw ‘like a girl’ but often it is more subtle and sometimes even well-intentioned such as complimenting girls on their appearance or emphasising ‘putting a brave face on it’ for boys – yet can be just as damaging in the context of gendered messaging (Gestetner, 2015)

For example, ‘Boys will be boys’ might be spoken or it might be an unspoken opinion, informing expectations of ‘boys’ as a group. This expression is used to excuse, justify, or anticipate rough or disruptive behaviour from boys. It’s never used when a boy has been helpful or kind. Its effects are harmful and unfair, suggesting that boys can’t help bad behaviour, suppressing the individuality of the many boys who are not behaving in this way and anticipating that ‘girls’ (again, as a group) will be better behaved (Gestetner, 2015).

Gender socialisation is a process by which individuals (especially children and adolescents) develop, refine and learn to ‘do’ gender through internalizing gender norms and roles as they interact with key agents of socialization, such as their family, schools, peer groups and mass media, social networks, and other social institutions (Hoominfar, 2019). During this process girls and boys are actively involved in constructing their own gendered identities and are affected by gender stereotypes and traditional gendered expectations (Vinney, 2019).

Gender norms are standards and expectations to which women and men generally conform ideas about how girls and boys, women and men should be and act (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division, 2016). Internalised early in life, gender norms can establish a life cycle of gender socialisation and stereotyping. Gender norms and stereotypes encourage or force girls and boys to act in certain ways. Kids believe gender stereotypes by age 10 and have internalized the myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent (Luscombe, 2017).

Gender socialisation may limit boys and girls in exploring their talents and interests to their full potential. Some unrealistic and contradicting expectations can cause internal conflicts, psychological problems. For example, young girls being overly concerned with feminine beauty and body image may have eating disorders or boys, who are under the pressure to appear ‘manly’ and strong among peers, may motivate a violent behaviour and they grow up with far less emotional awareness than girls.

Gender stereotypes are assumptions about what men and women are usually like, or how women and men should behave to be ‘right’. Stereotypes are largely unconscious “self-evident”, deeply embedded in culture. Gender stereotypes contribute to the perpetuation of inequalities between women and men.

Stereotypes are mostly based on an assumption that all men/boys will be the same and like the same things, and all women/girls will be the same and like the same things. This can lead to children being restricted in the interests, skills, and behaviours they develop.

Gender stereotypes are often seen in assumptions about personality traits (e.g., women emotional and men rational), behaviours (e.g., girls helpful and boys boisterous), preferences, occupations and jobs and physical appearance. How to set learning objectives

Learning objectives are to support the development of students who understand:

  • The differences between sex and gender and be able to use examples to explain the differences between the concepts and the changing meanings of being a man and being a woman in time and culture (how gender norms have changed throughout history).
  • The role of prejudices, cultural gender norms and traditional gender roles in shaping the behavioural practices of people of different genders (e.g., gender roles and gender norms influence people’s lives).
  • The impact of different environmental expectations on the choices, opportunities and responsibilities of girls and boys and can critically assess these factors, reflecting messages that men and women are expected to act differently and that stereotypes about gender can lead to bias and inequality,
  • And values equality and the principles of equal treatment of girls and boys, women, and men.
  • That achieving gender equality is a development goal for all countries and know which areas are concerned by gender equality. Tips for teachers:

Discuss with pupils what equality means. Equality means making sure that every person regardless gender, has the same chances to make the most of their lives and talents. Explain that equality is about being fair. Stress fairness because it resonates easily with teenage children. Discussing gender and gender equality, put across the message that:

  • All genders are equal.
  • There are very few things men and women cannot do equally well.
  • All genders have the right to study for and perform any kind of work they wish to.
  • Gender equality is an issue of human rights and fairness.

When you discuss gender with children, talk about what people like to wear, the activities they engage in, how they feel about themselves, and social roles performed by women and men.

Teach students about the “what is this thing called gender” and how to avoid being trapped in the “box” of numerous gender stereotypes that usually dictated a way of behaving in numerous situations.

Teach that a stereotype is an overly simplified, often untrue, fixed idea about a group of people. Explain that a stereotype is a belief that someone’s character, preferences, attributes, or abilities can be automatically inferred from a group that they may happen to be a part of. It is important to challenge gender stereotypes that treat groups of all girls as the same, or groups of all boys as the same. By teaching students that these gender stereotypes are not accurate, you can teach them to embrace the differences between them and respect each other. Dnderifferences within each gender group are generally far larger than any differences between the groups (Open Textbooks for Hong Kong, 2015).

Help them to recognise the origin of machismo / masculinity as a socio-cultural feature, and to analyse the role of the media in fostering and reinforcing the image of masculinity which is usually associated with use of power and violence.

Foster a level of self-reflection among teenagers that can help them better to learn from their own experience, to question rigid ideals of gender and masculinities and femininities and to change their attitudes and behaviours. Gender Equality and Transgender People

When talking about gender equality, it should be kept in mind that rigid gender norms negatively affect people with diverse identities, who often come into contact with violence, shaming and discrimination. Gender discrimination can intersect with other factors of discrimination such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, age, geographic location, gender identity and sexual orientation.

When defining the concept of “gender”, the European Court of Justice has applied a broad concept of “gender” in the interpretation of the corresponding sources of European law (Ellis, 2005), taking into account, in addition to biological differences, social, psychological, and cultural aspects that affect a person’s belonging to one or the other gender. As a result, the court has found (K.B. v National Health Service Pensions Agency and Secretary of State for Health, 2004; P v S and Cornwall County Council. Equal treatment for men and women—Dismissal of a transsexual, 1996) that less favourable treatment due to being transgender is also gender discrimination.


Trans child or youth is being bullied because of their look: “Look, he is like a girl!”

One girl is interested in information technology lessons, but in schools these lessons are only for boys.

The boys are aggressive and just slapping each other, the teacher is seeing that, but just says: “Boys will be boys!”

2.4.4. BEST PRACTICES Videos for self-education on the topics covered

  • Gender Equality Explained by Children


  • Gender Socialization


  • Gender stereotypes and education


  • Gender Stereotyping


  • Sex and Gender


  • Problems with Gender Socialization



Cole, N. L. (2019, July 21). How Gender Differs From Sex. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/gender-definition-3026335

Council of Europe. (2007). Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)13 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on gender mainstreaming in education. https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016805d5287

Ellis, E. (2005). EU Anti-Discrimination Law. Oxford University Press, UK.

European Institute for Gender Equality. (n.d.-a). Concepts and definitions. European Institute for Gender Equality. Retrieved 2 November 2022, from https://eige.europa.eu/gender-mainstreaming/concepts-and-definitions

European Institute for Gender Equality. (n.d.-c). Gender inequality. European Institute for Gender Equality. Retrieved 1 November 2022, from https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1182

Gestetner, C. (2015, March 15). Gendered Language in Schools. Gender Action. https://www.genderaction.co.uk/latest-news/2019/3/14/gendered-language-in-schools

Haridus ja sugu. (n.d.). Rahvusvahelistest uuringutest selgunud seaduspärasusi. Haridus ja sugu. Retrieved 2 November 2022, from https://www.haridusjasugu.ee/uuringud/soouuringud-hariduses/rahvusvahelistest-uuringutest-selgunud-seadusparasusi/

K.B. v National Health Service Pensions Agency and Secretary of State for Health, (European Court 7 January 2004). https://curia.europa.eu/juris/liste.jsf?language=en&num=C-117/01

Luscombe, B. (2017, September 20). Gender Stereotypes: Kids Believe Them By Age 10. Time. https://time.com/4948607/gender-stereotypes-roles/

P v S and Cornwall County Council. Equal treatment for men and women—Dismissal of a transsexual, (European Court 30 April 1996). https://curia.europa.eu/juris/liste.jsf?num=C-13/94

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Divisio. (2016). Integrating a Gender Perspective into Statistics—Integrating a Gender Perspective into Statistics. United Nations. https://unstats.un.org/wiki/display/genderstatmanual/?preview=/79009569/85787258/Integrating-a-Gender-Perspective-into-Statistics-E.pdf

UNESCO and UN Women. (2016). Global guidance on addressing school-related gender-based violence. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2016/12/global-guidance-on-addressing-school-related-gender-based-violence

UNICEF. (2017). Gender equality: Glossary of Terms and Concepts. UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia. https://www.unicef.org/rosa/media/1761/file/Gender

Vinney, C. (2019, February 4). What Is Gender Socialization? Definition and Examples. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/gender-socialization-definition-examples-4582435

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