You Can Be


You Can Be is a Zero Tolerance campaign to tackle gender stereotyping in the early years. By raising awareness of harmful gender stereotypes and offering tips and ideas on how to tackle them, the campaign aims to support parents, carers and childcare professionals to start conversations that will help all children to develop their full potential.

What is gender stereotyping?

Gender stereotyping is a harmful process that takes place in society through regular repetition of outdated ideas about gender, known as gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are old-fashioned and restrictive beliefs about what it means to be a boy or a girl or a man or a woman.

For example, in many parts of the world, boys are encouraged to be active and adventurous in their play, discouraged from expressing sadness and expected to behave aggressively. In contrast, girls are encouraged to take on caring and nurturing roles from a very young age, discouraged from expressing anger and expected to behave politely.

Why is it a problem?

Like all stereotypes, gender stereotypes are harmful because they enforce strict rules and expectations. Children learn by seeing and copying the world around them, and so rules and expectations about what girls and boys ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do or ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be shape children’s understanding of the world and their own place within it.

Not only are gender stereotypes limiting for children, they also have negative consequences for society as a whole, as they reinforce the outdated view that there are fundamental social differences between the sexes. This view perpetuates gender inequality and contributes to high levels of violence against women. Although there has been enormous change in recent decades, inequalities persist.

For example, men are less likely than women to take on caring roles for children or the elderly, meaning that women shoulder a disproportionate share of unpaid work worldwide. Although women make up the majority of certain professions (such as education and health care), their male colleagues are more likely to be promoted to senior positions.

You Can Be Campaign

It’s never too early to challenge gender stereotypes. A wealth of evidence indicates that the earliest years of life are crucial to children’s development, and as adults we have a huge part to play in tackling harmful stereotypes in the early years.

At Zero Tolerance, we know that small actions can make a big impact. At the same time, we know that it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why we created You Can Be, a campaign to support parents, carers and childcare professionals to raise children free from the restrictions of outdated gender stereotypes.

You Can Be campaign materials have been designed to support parents, carers and childcare practitioners to create environments where all children can learn, play and thrive, and to feel more confident when talking to children about gender.

Campaign material includes: facts, videos, blogs, play ideas and simple actions everyone can take to tackle gender stereotyping. The campaign adds to Zero Tolerance’s existing resources on gender equality in the early years.

Get involved

Ask your nursery to join our campaign

  • Ask your nursery to join our campaign. They can join by signing up HERE
  • They can also take part in our book audit campaign, more information HERE

Spread the word

  • Like, comment, and our campaign posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
  • Please share link to this website and help other families to turn this time that is limiting us all, into a time for limitless fun!
  • Share our social media resources. To see the Wakelet click HERE

Have we missed something?

If you have any useful resources or tips you would recommend to friends and family about gender, race, sexuality, and disability please just let us know – we’d love to include it here!

ZT logo

Related downloads

‘The default setting’: What parents’ say about gender stereotyping in their children’s early years: Zero Tolerance 2015‘The default setting’: What parents’ say about gender stereotyping in their children’s early years: Zero Tolerance 2015 This report is the result of a large scale survey Zero Tolerance undertook with over 1300 parents and caregivers on gender stereotyping and children.

Anyone Can Play PostersAnyone Can Play Posters Print out and display our Anyone Can Play posters!

Gender Equal Play in Early Learning and ChildcareGender Equal Play in Early Learning and Childcare This resource has been co-produced by the Care Inspectorate and Zero Tolerance in order to help practitioners enhance gender equality for children across all ELC settings.

Introducing Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact AssessmentsIntroducing Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments