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Canadian teens ambivalent about gender equality Add to ...

Canadian teenagers may talk the talk on gender equality but they also harbour some markedly stereotypical views of appropriate roles and behaviours for men and women.

That’s one conclusion drawn from a report released Thursday that surveyed 1,000 young Canadians, as well as nearly 4,000 teens from India, Rwanda and the United Kingdom.

While 90 per cent of Canadian youth said they agree gender equality is good for both men and women, nearly 45 per cent agree that “to be a man you need to be tough.” By comparison, only 13 per cent of youth in the U.K. and 26 per cent in Rwanda hold similar tough-guy notions, the survey shows.

“We thought our numbers would be closer to U.K.,” said Rosemary McCarney, president of Plan Canada, an anti-poverty development group that produced the report for its “Because I am a girl” campaign. “But they were actually closer to Rwanda, and our reaction was, how does that happen?”

The survey also revealed that 31 per cent of Canadian boys think a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family. In the U.K., only 15 per cent of young boys think the same, while the number is 74 per cent in India.

The way the Canadian respondents tell it, they feel pressure to conform to traditional stereotypes of male and female roles. Some 66 per cent say they feel peer-pressured; 46 per cent say the pressure comes from the media, and 35 per cent from family.

“Gender stereotypes in our own country put a heavy burden on boys and men here … the reality is that if they feel the pressure to shoulder all the household income or to have a manly attitude, we are going to leave both groups [of men and women]behind,” Ms. McCarney said.

The report of the “Because I am a girl” campaign focuses this year on young men, regarding them as part of the solution to eradicating poverty and attaining female empowerment. “Gender equality isn’t just about girls. It’s about girls and boys,” Ms. McCarney said.

Karen Craggs-Milne, gender adviser at Plan Canada, sees the pressure on the home front. Initially, she said, her three-year-old son, Kameron, played with dolls, while her daughter, Asha, tinkers away on her broken toys with a screwdriver.

“But then from somewhere, school I suppose, he picked up that boys wear blue and don’t play with dolls,” she said. “My daughter is comfortable not being stereotyped, but somehow my son hasn’t made those same leaps. Every day at work, I’m working toward removing gender barriers, only to see it play out at home. It just made it clear to me that boys need to be a large part of the conversation in achieving gender equality.”

The Plan campaign is taking that message worldwide, hoping to encourage governments to develop enlightened social policy. Many successful advocacy and aid groups are already on side.

Todd Minerson, executive director of White Ribbon Campaign, says responding to poverty issues globally is rooted in challenging gender stereotypes. The group was launched by men working against violence against women after the Montreal massacre of female engineering students in 1989.

“It’s definitely a stretch for some people to get from dealing with poverty to empowering women and dealing with male stereotypes,” Mr. Minerson said. “When you see the famine in the Horn of Africa, for example, the instinctive reactionary response is to get aid and hands on the ground. But most of the research out there tells us that educating men and women about gender equality, it improves their quality of life.”

Margaret Capelazo, senior gender adviser at CARE Canada, works mostly with men in developing countries such as Vietnam, Pakistan and Kenya. Usually men work on cash crops, while women work on food crops, but CARE encourages the men to let their women counterparts also take in agricultural training.

“That way, both women and men get training,” she said. “Everybody eats and everybody has money, and there is generally a lot more satisfaction.”

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