Gender Equality in Early Childhood

Early childhood development is a period of unprecedented growth and development, where approximately 90% of a child’s brain is built.  It is a period when a child learns social, emotional, cognitive and language skills that are the foundations for health, development, wellbeing, positive relationships and productivity into adulthood. 

This is also the time when children learn the gendered norms, attitudes and expectations of their community and society, meaning that by the time they reach primary school, girls and boys may already have a clear idea of how they are expected to behave, how they are valued and what their future role will be. 

In many countries, gender inequality and discrimination underpin women’s low status, their poor physical and mental health and their limited opportunities to make choices for themselves and their children. This in turn results in their children having fewer chances of surviving and thriving during early childhood. In countries and communities where gender discrimination and son preference are significant, girls often receive lower quality care and attention right from birth and grow up at a disadvantage, with lifelong implications that affect the next generation.

Gender transformative ECD programming matters for ending this cycle of discrimination. Gender transformative ECD programming and policy advocacy aims not only to ensure that all girls and boys access the care, supports and services they need to survive, grow healthily and develop to their full potential – it also pays specific attention to transforming unequal gendered power relations. When ECD programs are gender transformative, they engage parents (including fathers), caregivers, community leaders and educators to change the way that children are taught, treated and cared for so that unjust gendered norms and attitudes are challenged from an early age.

This thematic page includes key information for practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders interested in learning about how to promote gender equality in the early years.

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Key Features of Gender Equality in ECD

  • Ensuring girls and boys are provided with equal care and learning opportunities by building the capacity of the adults that care for and teach children, including through gender-responsive pedagogy for educators;
  • Ensuring that girls and boys have equal access to play and learning materials; and that play does not reinforce limiting gender norms and stereotypes.
  • Adapting parenting programs for parents/caregivers – female and male –  to include reflection on how children learn about gender from early childhood and the importance of providing girls and boys equal care and opportunities to develop and thrive.    
  • Promoting men’s engagement in the nurturing care of their children, and shared childcare and decision-making with their female partner.
  • Ensuring that ECD programs support and promote women’s rights to health, freedom from violence and agency.
  • Ensuring that nurturing care social and behavior change communications reflect the equal value and potential of girls and boys, and the importance of shared caregiving and decision-making responsibilities between women and men.
  • Ensuring that social protection systems and supports for young children and their families do not reinforce gendered norms around care work, and provide for maternity and paternity leave and childcare.



Briefs and Reports

Swan, M., Doyle, K., Broers, R. (2019), “Promoting men’s engagement as equitable, non-violent fathers and caregivers in children’s early lives: Programmatic reflections and recommendations”, International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, vol.7, Issue 1,

Chi, J., Pathways for gender equality through early childhood teacher policy in China, Brookings Institute.

Nandyose, H., Ruskin, L. and Swan, M. (2018), Gender Socialization and men’s engagement: An Annotated Bibliography, Plan International.

Alemann, C., Garg, A. and Vlahovicova, K. (2020), The Role of Fathers in Parenting for Gender Equality, Promundo.

Barker, G. (2015), “Why men’s caregiving matters for young children: lessons from the MenCare campaign”, Promundo-US.

Men and Boys are Partners in Gender Equality, Promundo,

Van der Gaag, N., Heilman, B., Gupta, T., Nembhard, C., and Barker, G. (2019). State of the World’s Fathers: Unlocking the Power of Men’s Care: Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Promundo-US.

Plan (2017), Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development,


Program Guidance

UNICEF (2011), Promoting Gender Equality through UNICEF-Supported Programming in Young Child Survival and Development: Operational Guidance, UNICEF.

UNICEF (2018), Gender Toolkit: Integrating Gender in Programming for Every Child in South Asia, UNICEF.



Chick, K., Heilman-Houser, R., Hunter, M. (2002), “The Impact of Child Care on Gender Role Development and Gender Stereotypes”, Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Promundo-US and ABAAD. (2019). The Pilot of Program P-ECD in Lebanon: Evaluation Results and Lessons Learned. Washington, DC: Promundo.

Plan (2017), Synthesis Report: Research into Gender Equality and Early Childhood Development in Eleven Countries in Asia,

The Nurturing care framework for early childhood development: A framework for helping children SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANS- FORM health and human potential builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and of the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood de- velopment.