Bust the Gender Myths to Set Girls on Course for Future

Published on Monday, 31 March 2014

Published by Shanny Campbell on Monday, 31 March 2014

Written by Shanny Campbell, Gender and Social Development Specialist

How many of your childhood friends do you remember who climbed trees, drew imaginative pictures showing how things worked, built cities of Lego, rode bikes, constructed forts from blankets and furniture and invented elaborate games involving hiding, seeking, capturing … and getting really filthy? If your childhood was anything like mine, these memories are some of your best, and I would guess at least half of those friends were girls.

But how often do we see the childhood interests of girls slowly subsumed beneath a well-meaning deluge of dolls, pink dresses, and expectations regarding their acquisition of cooking, cleaning and deportment skills? Who among you made your decision regarding post-secondary training entirely based upon your passions? Did you have much idea about the job market? To what extent was your decision influenced by your parents?

Recently ADB has been working with an NGO in the Kyrgyz Republic to look into some of the gender issues surrounding further education and the labor market. We found that parents push their girls into a university education, thinking it is better, or more appropriate, than technical and vocational education and training (TVET). They don't take into account the fact that most Kyrgyz girls at university study health and education, creating huge competition for relatively few jobs in these sectors and with comparatively lower remuneration.

This trend contributes to large gender gaps between men and women’s employment rates. Female unemployment, particularly among younger women, is unacceptably high. With many young male tradespeople migrating for work to other countries in the region, new job opportunities have emerged for skilled female plumbers, mechanics, electricians, and other trades. Within the TVET system itself, boys are more likely to take courses in non-traditional areas (sewing, food technology) in response to perceived demand in the labor market. Girls, however, are reticent to enter traditional male-dominated courses.

This situation is by no means unique to the Kyrgyz Republic. As a result, ADB has been working on strategies targeting not only potential students but also, importantly, their parents. The aim is to de-stigmatize young women entering technical and vocational training.  

The video linked here is an output of the ADB project Promoting Gender Inclusive Growth in Central and West Asian Developing Member Countries. It is part of a set of media products aiming to challenge stereotypes and increase the enrollment of girls in technical and vocational training courses. It intends to improve gender-related results of ADB's ongoing and planned assistance to the TVET subsector.

When I watch the video and see the little girls fixing toy cars, setting up the Christmas tree lights and doing jigsaw puzzles, I’m reminded a lot of my own childhood. I had a father who indulged my non-typical interests of changing the car tire, going fishing, joining the football team and using power tools. Although I know both my parents despaired at the number of trips to the hospital, ripped jeans and ruined shoes (not to mention the occasional hole in the carpet from a chemistry experiment gone wrong), I’m pretty sure these experiences set me on a path toward the challenging and rewarding career I find myself in today.

If we can bust some gender myths about courses and careers that are “most suitable for girls,” and encourage all girls to follow their interests, individual and family career success stories like those in the video have the potential to transform whole economies.