What the research shows
According to Census 2011 51.3% of the South African population is female, and 48.7% is male. Females are the majority (by a small margin, but still the majority). However, with regard to education, statistics show that more males than females are educated, at a variety of education levels. In contrast, more females had no formal schooling in comparison to males.
The census also found that across all racial groups in South Africa, more men are employed than women. Men of all racial groups also earn more on average than females do per hour (about 15-17% more). The census found that men will likely take on more market activities, while women take on non-market activities and are more likely than men to be doing unpaid economic work – mainly in the informal sector. The Women’s Report 2015: Equal Pay for Equal Value explains that women’s skills are often undervalued which leads to occupational segregation. Within the same jobs women are reported to earn less than their male colleagues. One reason for this is that women are often seen as being less loyal to their company than men. Women will inevitably take time off or resign in order to have children, and may have more family demands placed on them that could impact on their effectiveness at work.
Pink for girls and blue for boys
Gender stereotypes begin from birth (or soon thereafter). Boy children are given blue clothes, and girls are given pink. Boys are given cars and blocks to play with, girls are given dolls and cooking equipment. Boys are encouraged to play outside and we expect their clothing to be filthy when they arrive home from school. Girls are expected to paint, draw and play in the fantasy room, and we’re shocked when they come home with sand in their pockets from the sandpit. These stereotypes seem to perpetuate the situation and as children get older their choices of subjects, careers and lifestyle are often impacted by these stereotypes.
For example, at a high school level a variety of subjects are made available to both male and female students. However, some schools may not offer certain gender specific subjects which could impact on a students’ university choice of study and therefore their career. Many single sex girls’ schools do not offer, for example, Technical Drawing, Business Studies or Information Technology, and many single sex boys’ schools do not offer Consumer Studies or Hospitality Studies. In co-educational high schools, where subjects are on offer to all learners, there is still a trend of learners selecting gender specific subjects – and choosing ‘opposite’ subjects can be seen as taboo. Subject choices therefore lead to career choices. Failing to offer gender neutral or ‘opposite’ subjects in single sex schools will limit the choices our children have, and therefore limit their career interests and opportunities.
Our children need to be encouraged to choose subjects and areas that interest them, and not subjects that they’re expected to take. This is often up to the parents to allow this, as many parents are the decision makers regarding their child’s schooling. Parents often need to alleviate their expectations of their child, and allow them the freedom to take on subjects and roles that suit them, not what they’re expected to do because of their gender.
Leading by example
Parents, caregivers and teachers need to be role models for our children. A role model is defined as “a person whose behaviour, example or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.” According to this definition a role model does not have to be a same sex role model, but somebody who a child looks up to, admires, or aspires to be like. A young girl may have Jacques Kallis as her role model because of his dedication, manner on the cricket pitch and success. This doesn’t mean she necessarily wants to be a cricket player, but values the qualities Kallis presents. While it may be easier to identify with a same sex role model – such as a girl wanting to be like Beyonce, gender is not important in a choice of role model, but what that person represents.
At home fathers or male family members can be role models for daughters on how women should be treated and respected – behaviour of parents at home can affect a child’s view of themselves or their parents and gender. In the same way, mothers can be role models to show their daughters how to respond to men, how to stand up for themselves if necessary and how mothers can take on ‘different’ roles in the household to what they may historically have done in the past.
If parents model positive and equal behaviours it should not be too difficult for male siblings to acknowledge that their sisters are equal to them. Having equal responsibilities in the home can assist in the equality of male and female children. In many cases boys who have sisters will have a greater understanding of girls and women and be able to relate to them more equally. This will likely be due to a functional family environment too, where the above modelling takes place.
What can I do at home?
There is no reason why our daughters cannot be as successful as their male siblings and counterparts. While there are many societal shifts that will need to take place, it is important for parents to encourage this equality at home. Parents can consider some of the following to encourage confidence in your daughters (and sons):
- Encourage assertiveness.
- Help her understand why she may get left out.
- Encourage competence.
- Encourage her to play sports if she wants to.
- Don’t make assumptions about her strengths and weaknesses.
- Encourage a healthy body image.
- Prepare her for sexism.
- Point out positive female role models.
- Pursue her interests.
- Parent with empathy.
- Show an interest in her schooling and academics.
- Help her feel unique.
While fathers will obviously benefit from the above tips, the following are areas that fathers can focus their attention in order to raise a confident daughter:
- Avoid ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ parenting.
- Don’t treat her like a damsel in distress. Help her to know she can protect and provide for herself. Teach her to be a problem solver.
- Break gender stereotypes.
- Take her to work with you or teach her how to change a tyre or a plug.
- Model respect for and equality with women.
- Cultivate open, non-judgmental lines of communication.
- Take the time to learn about her passions, who she is spending time with and what she enjoys doing. Try not to be too over-reactive or over-protective (keep your Dad ego out!).
Some resources about female empowerment and confident women
Mona Lisa Smile
Bend it Like Beckham
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Matilda by Roald Dahl (also a movie)
Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (also a movie)
Harriet the Spy by Lousie Fitzhugh (also a movie)
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Nancy Drew Series by Edward Stratemeyer
Visit www.amightygirl.com for a list of resources to assist with raising confident little girls.
Written for Mamas and Papas Magazine