By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two recent newsworthy events highlight the international efforts being made to further women’s rights and protect women from inequality and discrimination. First, Sunday marked the United Nations’ thirtieth year celebration of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, an annual day dedicated to paying respect to worldwide victims of torture. This week also marked one year since the opening of the Swedish school Egalia, a preschool aimed at promoting gender neutrality by eliminating common stereotypes.
The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on Sunday. Last year, at Denmark’s request, the UN designated June 26 as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Torture against women in particular has been an important focus. Certain forms of gender-specific violence perpetrated by state actors, as well as by private individuals or organizations, amount to torture, and it is now recognized that gender-specific violence falls within the definition of torture in the Convention against Torture.
One country has promoted women’s rights for decades. A preschool in Sweden, Egalia, takes human rights and equality to a new level. The school proclaims to be totally gender neutral, and teaches gender equality by eliminating common socialization that occurs in ordinary schools. For example, the school staff refers to the children as friends instead of boys and girls. The colors of the toys are also gender neutral. Even the dolls are anatomically correct. The school refers to a person whose gender is not known as a “hen” instead of a him or her. School officials believe that such behavior will help eradicate stereotypes that lead to future gender inequality.
Critics of the school’s program are wary. Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis, said he’s not aware of any other school like Egalia, and he questioned its mission.
“The kind of things that boys like to do – run around and turn sticks into swords – will soon be disapproved of,” he said. “So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness.” Despite opinions such as Belsky’s, the school boasts a long waiting list for admission.
Such events as the thirtieth anniversary of the International Day in support of torture victims and the one-year anniversary of the opening of the innovative Egalia highlight a long road ahead for women’s rights. But, at the least, it is clear that efforts are being made to reduce discrimination and ill treatment based on gender.
For more information, please see:
Human Rights Education Associates – International Day of Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June 2011
New York Times – No ‘him’ of ‘her’; Preschool Fights Gender Bias – 26 June 2011
UN – International Day of Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June 2011