School communities in Lithuania are gradually abandoning gender stereotypes, but there is no need to relax
ECO IN partners are very interested in sharing this relevant article related to inclusiveness at school, thanks to our colleague Inga Puisa from LESTU. Indeed, the article is focused on how gender stereotypes are replicated in schools in Lithuania, investigating on how both teachers and students perceive gender roles in family, schools and at societal level.
What is particularly meaningful for ECO IN project partners is the importance to reflect on how gender differences at school can still play a role in making the environment more inclusive and open to diversity. Considering that Gender Equality is a matter of human rights, of the respect of others’ needs and specificities, by avoiding to judge, discriminate or exclude who is not corresponding to so defined category of acceptance, it is very important to deepen the knowledge about how gender stereotypes are transferred and replicate in schools in Lithuania, as one of the partner country in ECO IN project.
In 2020 and 2021, the Center for the Development of Equal Opportunities and the Lithuanian Center for Human Rights conducted surveys in 9 Lithuanian schools to assess whether consistent work with school communities changes the stereotypical attitudes of students and teachers.
As children learn gender norms at an early age, the survey asked several questions about toys suitable for girls and boys. With the statement “Cars are the right toys for girls” in 2020 agreed 66% of all the students surveyed, and in 2021 the 78%. There were slightly fewer people who thought dolls were suitable toys for boys in both surveys (in 2020 almost half of the interviewed – 49% – agreed, and a year later the number rose to 65%). Interestingly, teachers on both issues tended to question more than students and their views were less categorical. In the second survey on 2021, more teachers found themselves in a neutral position and did not choose a specific answer, and the number of those who agreed was reduced by a few percent.
Significant changes in students’ attitudes can also be seen in some of the issues related to appearance. For example, in 2020 the 27% of them stated that they support the statement “Girls must look sexy”, while 41% disagreed. Only the 12% of the students who agreed with the statement remained with the same opinion in the second survey, while even the 62% took the opposite view. There was no increase in the number of teachers who did not agree with this statement, but there were still more of them than the students (68% in 2020 and 67% in 2021).
The demands on the appearance of the guys have also decreased. In 2020 the 23% and 41% of the older students surveyed agreed with the statement “It is important for a guy to be muscular”, while the 41% objected, and another 36% neither agreed nor disagreed. This indicated at the beginning of the project that quite a number of young people had not yet made up their minds and that a more in-depth examination of the topic could potentially help to develop attitudes that increase self-esteem, encourage less bodily harm and do not restrict self-expression. This is exactly what happened, as the number of those who disagreed in 2021 increased by as much as 19 points achieving 60%, and the 17% of respondents agreed with the statement, where the 23% could not answer accurately.
When evaluating the girls’ initiative in knitting a romantic relationship, the high school students showed a more liberal attitude than the teachers who participated in the surveys. The statement “It is normal when a girl invites a boyfriend to a date” was supported by 81% of students in 2021, while it was 73% in 2020 and 60% of teachers in 2021 (61% in 2020). 28% of teachers (27% in 2020) answered neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the proposed statement.
Although teachers took a traditional approach to dating, they overtook students in their first survey on gender equality in the family. With the statement “In the family, the father must have more authority than the mother” in 2020 40% of students disagreed and in 2021 63% already thought so. Teachers’ perceptions changed by only 4 percentage points from 64 percent in 2020 up to 68 percent this year.
Still, the survey revealed that stereotypes about the behavior and appearance of girls and boys are prevalent among students. The answers to the question of whether you agree with the statement “It is more important for girls than boys to look nice” were slightly different, but 45% of students remains inclined to support such a provision. There are also a number of people who think that it is worse when girls are cursing than when guys are doing it (30%).