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It's never too early: Fostering gender equality among the young ones

Illustrations from Suzanna Mazzola's book HE can SHE can. Source: Susanna Mazzola

Early childhood educator Susanna Mazzola's book aims to break down gender stereotypes among children by speaking to them about inclusion and gender equality.

Hobart-based early childhood educator Susanna Mazzola's book 'HE can SHE can' is based on the idea that it's never too early to speak to children about gender equality. It encourages them to defy social expectations and stereotypes based on their gender and skin colour.  

"The book is divided into two parts: 'HE can' is about all those wonderful things that boys can do, focusing on what sometimes is regarded as being ‘not appropriate’ for them, like crying, dancing, using makeup and nail polish, for example,” Ms Mazzola tells SBS Italian. 

The other part, 'SHE can’ is a visual open letter about women's empowerment and self-worth.

The Italian-born migrant says her book aims to fight prejudices and help new generations to “free the children from gender stereotypes, and challenge that the feminine and the masculine as opposing concepts."

My dear boy, some people will tell you ‘men are not allowed to weep’, but we all know it is just a myth.

The book cover reflects the same idea of equality with the two parts mirroring one another. 

Ms Mazzola, who is also the illustrator of the book, used vivid colours to create images that stand out. 

"I chose to represent the real faces of men and women from different cultures to show their beauty and diversity, which make the book even more inclusive.”

An illutration from the book "HE can She can" by Susanna Mazzola
An illutration from the book "HE can She can" by Susanna Mazzola
Courtesy of Susanna Mazzola

The illustrations include historical references to strong female figures, including Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and the first woman in space - Valentina Tereshkova.

'HE can SHE can' represents an ode to life and to the freedom of expression at a time when people’s freedoms have been questioned.

Ms Mazzola has dedicated the book book to her grandfather, who she says is “the kindest and bravest man" she ever met. And she wrote the book with Italy in her heart.

You are powerful and bold from toe to curl.

"This book is my response to the pandemic; I started working on it when the pandemic hit Italy. I felt very anxious about what was happening there, being so far away. It was a very sad and difficult moment for me. I decided I had to do something good."

She was born and brought up in Bergamo, in the Northern region of Lombardy, which was the epicentre of COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Since the start of the pandemic, Lombardy has registered over 90,000 cases of coronavirus infections.  

She currently works as an early childhood educator in Hobart. As an essential worker, she worked throughout the lockdown. She says the book helped her to keep her sanity and get through what she calls a 'moment of great confusion'. 

An illustration from the book "HE can She can" by Susanna Mazzola
An illustration from the book "HE can She can" by Susanna Mazzola
Courtesy of Susanna Mazzola

But the idea of the book was born well before the pandemic began.

"The idea of education as a space to address gender issues and promote gender equality has always been a focus of my work.”

Since the time she started working as an educator in Italy 13 years ago, she says she has observed "deep-rooted" gender stereotypes in her students, even at an early age.

"I remember once we were reading an amazing book called ‘Pink is for boys’, and some of the children started protesting: 'Absolutely not, pink is for girls!’ they said. When I asked them why, no one could answer and from that moment on slowly they independently started questioning the assumption,” she says.

"When a child wonders 'why', there is the hope of breaking down the stereotypes."

Susanna Mazzola with a copy of her book "HE can SHE can"
Susanna Mazzola with a copy of her book "HE can SHE can"
Courtesy of Susanna Mazzola

Ms Mazzola moved to Australia in 2014 and became an Australian citizen on 14 October 2020. Speaking of inclusion, she said that was the end of a long journey.

"The moment I became an Australian citizen, I felt a shift. I finally felt like everybody else, part of a multicultural community with the same opportunities and the same responsibilities of my fellow citizens.”

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