These schools want to wipe away gender stereotypes from an early age

Two "Emotion dolls" at the gender-neutral Egalia preschool in Sweden.

Story highlights

  • Preschools in Sweden are trying to teach children in a gender-neutral manner
  • Teachers are trained to not reinforce certain behaviors
  • Some are skeptical as to whether this will have long-term benefits

(CNN)From the moment a child is born, its gender pretty much determines how they will dress, which toys they'll be given and ultimately how they are meant to behave within society.

But some schools in Sweden are trying to strip away such gender norms.
    There's nothing obviously out of the ordinary at Sweden's gender-neutral preschools at first glance.
    There are no designated areas to play with dolls or building blocks. The toys have been strategically jumbled to create an environment for girls and boys to play together.
    These two preschools in Sweden -- Nicolaigarden and Egalia (meaning 'equality' in Latin) -- go to great lengths to de-emphasize gender. Children are given the freedom to challenge and cross gender boundaries.
    Rather than encourage children to do particular things, the teachers are careful not to box children based on their gender or subtly discourage them from doing certain things.
    The school has removed the terms "girl" and "boy" completely. Instead they make a deliberate effort to call each child by their first name or the gender-neutral pronoun "hen".
    But is it necessary to intervene at such a young age, and what are the long-term effects?
    Children play in the garden of Egalia.

    Removing the 'gender straitjacket'

    A new global study found that young girls and boys are outfitted with "gender straitjackets" by the age of 10, resulting in lifelong negative consequences.
    The Global Early Adolescent Study analyzed how gender is learned, enforced and reinforced among early adolescents in 15 countries.
    It concluded that culturally-enforced gender stereotypes -- which are linked to an increased risk of mental and physical health problems -- are firmly rooted between the ages of 10 and 14. The study found these stereotypes leave girls at greater risk of exposure to physical and sexual violence, child marriage, and HIV. For boys, the risks can include substance abuse and suicide.
    In Sweden, which is ranked as the fourth-most equal country in the world when it comes to gender, the government has made a concerted effort to emphasize equality in the Education Act.
    Following a new amendment introduced in 1998 requiring all schools to work against gender stereotyping, Lotta Rajalin set up her first gender-neutral preschool for one to five-year-olds in Stockholm's Old Town.
    The gender-neutral policies at Rajalin's schools ensure that stories, songs and dramatizations are screened or re-scripted to include non-nuclear families (single parents or same-sex couples) and heroines sweeping princes off their feet.
    Teachers opt for non-traditional plot twists to ensure that they're not reinforcing gender stereotypes.