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Government Programme entry on the obligation to prepare gender equality plans in early childhood education and care (TAS 58/2020, issued on 3 March 2020)

Government Programme entry on the obligation to prepare gender equality plans in early childhood education and care (TAS 58/2020, issued on 3 March 2020)

Promoting gender equality in early childhood education and care is important

In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, it is important that gender equality is also promoted in early childhood education and care. Gender roles and stereotypes start to develop early and they will later influence the choice of subjects and fields of education as well as segregation in the labour market. It is therefore important that gender-sensitive interaction with children promoting gender equality is made an established part of early childhood education and care. This issue is emphasised in section 3 of the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care (540/2018) and in the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care approved by the Finnish National Agency for Education (OPH-2791-2018).

Under the Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government, provisions on binding gender equality and non-discrimination plans will also be laid down for early childhood education and care. According to the draft proposals of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health presented on 13 February 2020, the existing obligation to prepare gender equality plans in education institutions (section 5 a of the Act on Equality between Women and Men) would be extended to cover early childhood education and care. This would be done by means of a separate provision or by broadening the scope of section 5 a. The Ombudsman for Equality is critical of this proposal.

If the aim is to strengthen gender equality work in early childhood education and care, consideration should be given to the most effective means of achieving it, taking into account the ways in which early childhood education and care is provided and the existing steering methods. Extending the obligation to prepare gender equality plans is not necessarily the most effective approach, and the existing provisions on gender equality planning in education institutions are rather poorly suited for early childhood education and care. Instead, legislative drafting should be based on the needs arising from early childhood education and care, and therefore the focus should be on measures that ensure the implementation of gender-sensitive early childhood education and care and the inclusion of gender-sensitive early childhood education and care in the basic education of all those working in early childhood education and care.

How can the work to promote gender equality in early childhood education and care be made more effective?

Gender equality in early childhood education and care can be promoted in a number of different ways. The goal of promoting gender equality set out in the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care can be concretised by adding provisions to the same act. Likewise, the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care approved by the Finnish National Agency for Education could provide a stronger basis for promoting gender equality as part of early childhood education and care plans at local level and steer the work in practice. The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre could incorporate the promotion of gender equality in its quality indicators for early childhood education and care so that the gender equality work can also make practical progress.

If the provisions are incorporated into the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care and in the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care, we can also avoid the problems that arise when different provisions on promoting gender equality and non-discrimination in early childhood education and care are entered in the Act on Equality between Women and Men and the Non-discrimination Act (as is now the case with the provisions on education institutions, for example). The differences might cause problems for early childhood education and care units applying them.

It can be assumed that the gender equality measures and objectives integrated into the actual guidance system for early childhood education and care steer gender equality work in early childhood education and care more effectively than the planning obligations laid down in the Act on Equality between Women and Men. The providers and units of early childhood education and care should also be offered sufficient instructions to support them in gender equality work.

Personnel competence plays a key role in the promotion of gender equality in early childhood education and care. In fact, gender equality and gender-sensitive interaction with children should be taken into account in the basic and continuing education of early childhood education and care personnel. In the opinion of the Ombudsman for Equality, there is now a great deal of variation in gender equality competence in early childhood education and care, which is partly due to differing educational backgrounds of the personnel.

Adding the planning obligation to the Act on Equality between Women and Men

If the obligation to prepare gender equality plans in early childhood education and care is added to the Act on Equality between Women and Men, adequate consideration should be given to the special features of early childhood education and care. Early childhood education and care can be provided in a wide range of different ways, and the chances to involve the children in the planning process depend on their age and level of development. For this reason, the Ombudsman for Equality does not support either of the proposed legislative changes (extension of the scope of section 5 a of the Act on Equality between Women and Men, or the introduction of a new section 5 b) in their current form.

The Ombudsman for Equality also notes that in education institutions, the plans required under section 5 a of the Act on Equality between Women and Men and the non-discrimination plans required under the Non-discrimination Act are usually prepared together. There are slight differences between the obligations set out in the two acts, which may lead to problems in such cases.

Supervising compliance with the planning obligation

The planning obligation also creates expectations on supervision. However, supervising the implementation of the obligation to prepare gender equality plans is not an effective way to ensure equality-sensitive interaction with children in early childhood education and care on a daily basis. Individual day care centres do not need to prepare official gender equality plans in order to ensure that promoting gender equality in early childhood education and care is on a binding and systematic basis.

Under the proposed legislation, an official gender equality plan must be prepared to ensure that the interaction with children in early childhood education and care is on a gender-sensitive basis. In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, it is not appropriate to focus supervision on a document that is primarily intended to serve as a tool for those working in early childhood education and care.

In order to systematically promote gender equality in early childhood education and care, the training and instruction needs of the parties organising and providing early childhood education and care services should be given priority. These should primarily be the responsibility of the government agencies steering and supervising early childhood education and care, such as the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish National Agency for Education, and the Regional State Administrative Agencies.

 

28.04.2020