Girls are expected to sit nicely and pay attention to the teacher, whereas boys are assumed to be noisy and impulsive. These stereotypes have clear consequences in the school and preschool environment, says Satu Haapanen, member of the Nordic Council.
A girl who does not fit the standard mould may be perceived as a troublemaker, and a boy who tries to live up to masculine ideals may have problems conforming to school norms.
‘Boys perform worse than girls in all Scandinavian countries, and it’s all rooted in our expectations. These issues need thorough attention,’ says Haapanen.
Certification – a Tool for Change
The idea behind the proposed certification system is to enable schools and preschools that invest in gender equality work to show the community that they take these issues seriously.
‘The Nordic countries have worked hard with gender equality for a long time, but the implementation has not always been successful. We still lack concrete tools,’ says Haapanen.Sociologist and gender equality consultant Cecilie Nørgaard agrees.
‘A labelling system will enable schools and preschools to show outsiders that they deal with the gender dilemma actively and critically,’ she says.
Swedish National Union of Teachers Sceptical
It was Nørgaard who first presented the idea of gender equality labelling at a conference arranged by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2013. Haapanen liked the idea, and when she presented it to the Nordic Council’s Citizens’ and Consumer Rights Committee last winter, it was approved by a wide margin.
Since then, the proposition has been circulated to several different organisations for consideration. The feedback has been mostly positive, but some are hesitant. The National Union of Teachers in Sweden opposes the idea, arguing that the gender equality work in schools and preschools is a national responsibility that should be secured through legislation and monitoring efforts.
‘All schools should be gender equal,’ says Anders Almgren, deputy chair of the National Union of Teachers in Sweden.
‘I don’t like the idea of making schools compete against each other. When one school is better at gender equality, it means that another school is worse,’ he continues.
Haapanen sees no conflict between a strong national legislation and a Nordic gender equality certification system.
‘All schools should of course be gender equal, but we’re not there yet,’ she says.
She is a former teacher and sees a need for innovation to push the gender equality work forward. Almgren agrees that teachers need specialised training to be able to respond to the gender equality challenges. However, he believes that this should be the responsibility of national and local governments.
‘A labelling scheme will only motivate schools that are run by strong enthusiasts,’ he says.
In contrast, Nørgaard expects to see the strongest motivation effect among schools and countries that have fallen behind in the gender equality work.
‘I think a labelling system will help emphasise gender issues and give them a higher status,’ she says.
Standardised Training Programme a Guarantee for Success
The exact design of the labelling system remains to be developed. However, one important requirement for the schools and preschools that want the certification will be to have all of their staff complete a standardised training programme.
‘This will ensure that the training is based on knowledge and not myths about gender,’ says Nørgaard.
Initially, her idea of gender equality labelling was meant as a national initiative in Denmark. She is glad to see that it is now being discussed at the Nordic level.
‘This way we can benefit from knowledge from different countries and keep building on our tradition of joint gender equality initiatives,’ she says.