By Clara Aleman. 

Gender inequality manifests as different levels of access to opportunities and resources, starting at birth, which generates entirely different definitions of the concept of “full development” in men versus women, and boys versus girls. Although it is a prime driver behind the reproduction of poverty, little is being done to stop it. In part, this has occurred because it is not perceived as a main determinant of the development problems that we are trying to solve. As such, it is not a priority for most countries.

An NGO called Plan, which works on child development issues, did a detailed study of the effects of gender on life-long developmental opportunities for boys and girls (The state of the world’s girls 2011). The first three chapters of this report focus on early childhood. The diagram presented here  illustrates the risks that a girl faces from birth, and how those risks can affect each stage of her life. If her family, her community and the government invest in her development and provide the care she needs, she can become a full, active citizen who can take care of her own and her family’s needs as well as participate fully in society. Or the story could be very different, and she could become a victim due to malnutrition, lack of education, teen pregnancy, or HIV/AIDS. Then, she would stay trapped in poverty, and probably transmit it to her children, too. However, she can avoid taking the latter path if she receives the support and resources she needs to stay out of these “traps.”

I think it is essential to integrate the gender dimension into the policy dialogue on early childhood development as well as our interventions and technical assistance in this area. Why? Because gender is an important lens through which to analyze the causes of, and possible solutions to, specific vulnerabilities faced by mothers, fathers, girls and boys. They are the ones we’re trying to help as we strive to provide the conditions that will enable them to develop to their full capability and choose the best life path. Projects should take into account the effect of gender on the developmental prospects of children as well as their mothers and fathers, and incorporate strategies for eliminating current disparities. They should also incorporate indicators that measure their impact on beneficiaries of each gender.

But more to the point, what does this mean for the field of early childhood development (ECD)?

Integrating a gender perspective into the analysis and design of ECD interventions requires thinking about childcare patterns and family roles, taking into account different family configurations, and considering the specific life context of the mothers, fathers and childcare providers who participate in the program. For example, such an approach would identify gender inequalities in the distribution of employment, caregiving responsibilities, and mortality and morbidity risks.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the most important issues that I think we should take into account when integrating a gender perspective into ECD programs. But for now, I propose that we start thinking about two groups of issues:

  1. The psycho-social and economic vulnerabilities facing parents and childcare providers, and how to best support them so they can take care of their own and their children’s health, improve their parenting skills and continue to develop as individuals.
  2. Designing an educational component into ECD programs, aimed in particular towards children ages 3 to 6.

Clara Alemann is a consultant in the Division for Gender and Diversity. She works on the analysis of the determinants of poverty and the integration of gender and diversity in the design and implementation of social protection studies and operations, focusing on the areas of sexual and reproductive health, conditional cash transfer programs, early childhood development, and youth at risk. 

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