- Marija Jovic
DREAM EQUAL: Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes Through Youth Initiatives
Gender equality often operates in the gender binary. When we advocate for women and men to be treated equally, we often fail to recognize the unique struggles of trans and non-binary people. Many gender equality initiatives also center on women and fail to take into account how gender stereotypes negatively impact men. One organization, DREAM EQUAL, is working to change that.
Out of the many compelling statements on DREAM EQUAL's website, the most moving was the least complex one: "Empowering everyone everywhere."
In DREAM EQUAL's view, the biggest gender issue is that of gender stereotypes. According to their website, gender stereotypes can lead to confined professional development and limit children's life prospects by forcing them to dream only in line with their gender. Moreover, gender stereotypes cause poor mental health: due to traditional notions of masculinity, men seldom ask for help, leading the male suicide rate to be 3.54% higher than that of women.
In order to address the issues created by gender stereotypes, DREAM EQUAL has adopted a program of gender inclusivity. According to their Director of Curriculum Development, Mya Miller, “DREAM EQUAL works to address all forms of gender inequality by having inclusive and adaptable programming that allows all genders to be heard, recognized, and empowered. All of our programming includes inclusive language, and ideas and topics that can be related to by people of all genders.”
DREAM EQUAL understands that due to different struggles, different solutions are needed. Instead of a blanket solution or a cure-all, they’ve approached the problem with a more nuanced stance.
“Our resources include chapter starter guides to help leaders from around the world begin their journey with DREAM EQUAL and continue promoting equality in their communities. Our different curriculum resources include Elementary and Middle School curricula along with online resources and boot camp materials,” Miller said. “Each curriculum provides detailed instructions for fun and educational activities which promote self-esteem, gender equality, and empathy. Our work with children is a major focus but we also have Gender Sensitivity training which is aimed towards adults, empowering them to learn about gender identity and equality in a safe space. All our resources are inclusive and work to uplift the voices of all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic status.”
Aside from gender disparity, the organization recognizes that other factors must be acknowledged in order to fully accommodate for a person's needs. “It is important to recognize that each person’s own specific situation changes the way gender inequality affects them. Even location, age, and culture have significant impacts which vary widely," Miller said. “Allowing each DREAM EQUAL chapter to assess their community’s stance and individuals’ situation creates an inclusive environment for all to be heard and accepted. Many factors have an impact on the way gender inequality can affect a person but no factor should be overlooked or written off. All people have a unique experience with their gender equality journey and at DREAM EQUAL we want to support and uplift all people no matter their circumstance.”
DREAM EQUAL focuses on educating and empowering children in communities across the globe, hoping to break down gender stereotypes in youth before they’ve taken a permanent hold. Much of their program includes providing curricula to schools and clubs. “Each curriculum set includes twenty days worth of material to ensure that each club has enough resources no matter the length of their session," Miller said. “Each 'day' includes one icebreaker and one activity, combined to be about an hour long. The curriculum begins with two to three 'beginning days' which serve to help students and leaders get to know each other and establish some ideas which will be returned to at the end of the club session. Then we transition into the 'middle days' which include a variety of activities and icebreakers which focus on the different pillars of our organization, empowerment, education, and advocacy. The middle activities can be done in any order. Lastly, the 'ending days' which conclude the club, return to an activity or idea introduced in the beginning and often include a final celebration commemorating the students’ hard work and growth. This structure allows for flexibility and customization giving leaders the ability to create a program that best fits their needs.”
DREAM EQUAL's focus on proactively supporting elementary and middle school children to take their identity into their own hands is rewarding in more ways than one. “It is amazing to see the difference in confidence and self-esteem for the students in our programs, Miller said. “Seeing a child go from being scared to participate in public speaking practice to presenting their DREAM HERO in front of the whole class is incredible. I have learned so much from the students in our programs and I am so grateful to be able to work with them and see their growth firsthand. I am so glad and grateful to be able to make a difference in students lives and see them become empowered to be themselves.