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Heroines and heroes


Group 3 – specific subject – tool for moral and civic education and history teachers


pupils from 14 to 18


  • To reflect on different perspectives on historical events
  • To develop skills of critical analysis
  • To foster curiosity, open-mindedness and a sense of justice


60 minutes


  • Paper and pens (one blue and one red pen per participant; optional but preferable)
  • Flipchart paper and markers


  • Give people five minutes to think about which national heroines and heroes (historical or living) they particularly admire.
  • Hand out the paper and pens and ask each person to draw two columns. In the first column they should (using the red pen) write the names of three or four heroines plus a brief description of who they are and what they did for their country.
  • Underneath they should write keywords to describe the characteristics they associate with heroines in general.
  • Repeat the process (using the blue pen) for three or four heroes. Write this information in the second column.
  • Now ask the participants to get into small groups of between five and seven people to share their choices of heroines and heroes. Ask the groups to come to a consensus on the four most worthy heroines and four most worthy heroes.
  • Now come into plenary and write the names of each group’s heroines and heroes in two columns on the flipchart. Add the keywords that describe the characteristics.
  • Discuss the list of characteristics and the use of heroines and heroes as role models and the extent to which they are gender stereotypes. Then move on to the debriefing.

Debriefing and evaluation

Start by reviewing the activity and what people learnt about heroes and heroines and then go on to talk about stereotypes and how they influence our perceptions and actions.

  • What kinds of people are heroines and heroes? (Ordinary men and women? Kings?) What did they do? (Fight? Write poems?) How did the participants learn about them?
  • What were the differences and similarities between the two lists of characteristics?
  • What values do the heroines and heroes stand for? Are these values the same for both, or are there differences?
  • What do people understand by the word “stereotype”? How true are stereotypes? Are stereotypes always negative?
  • Do you personally, and people in your society in general, have general stereotypes and expectations of men and women?
  • Do participants feel limited by these expectations? How?
  • Does the list of characteristics produced in this activity reflect traits that some might describe as national characteristics?
  • To what extent are social and cultural barriers the result of stereotyped thinking?
  • In what ways does gender stereotyping deny people their human rights?
  • Which human rights documents and articles protect people from discrimination because of their gender?
  • Stereotyped expectations often act as barriers to both men and women limiting their life choices and options. What gender-related barriers have participants experienced? In the home, school, club or workplace?
  • What can participants do about these barriers? Can they identify strategies to break away from cultural norms and values related to masculinity and femininity?


The words ‘heroine’ and ‘hero’ are perceived differently in different societies. Be aware of this and take care to introduce the meaning carefully; it may be useful to underline that heroines and heroes are role models.

At point 5 in the instructions you should accept all contributions from the small groups and write everything onto the flip chart.

If someone suggests terms like “feminine” or “masculine” you should accept them at this stage and return to them in the debriefing when you should discuss the meanings of these words.

Depending on the target group and context, it may help people make links with human rights if you ask the participants to identify human rights heroines and heroes (defenders / activists / people who, in their opinion, have made a change in their country or the world). You could then go on to discuss the development of human rights, the influence of human rights on local, regional and international law, and the dilemmas.

This is a good activity to do in a multicultural setting because the cultural element becomes more apparent. Mix the groups and tell the participants that the heroines and heroes may be either from their present country of residence or from their country of origin.

When working with younger groups it is likely that you will want to work with other types of heroines and heroes, for example, characters in comic books and films, pop, film and sports celebrities. You could start the session reading comics and then brainstorm the characteristics of the characters. Alternatively, you could put up posters of pop or sports stars and ask people to write speech bubbles or add drawings. If you leave the question, “who are your heroines and heroes?” completely open, you may find some interesting surprises that make for fruitful discussion. For instance, people name their parents, Yuri Gagarine, Hello Kitty, Nelson Mandela or Beethoven!

Ask the participants individually to choose two people they admire greatly, without telling them that they should choose one female and one male. In the debriefing ask them to count whether there are more men than women or more women than men in their lists. Ask the participants if this is of any significance.

You should make sure you know the following definitions:

  • A ‘stereotype’ is an oversimplified, generalised and often unconscious preconception about people or ideas that may lead to prejudice and discrimination. It is a generalisation in which characteristics possessed by a part of the group are extended to the group as a whole. For example, Italians love opera, Russians love ballet and people who are black come from Africa.

When roles are attributed to women or men or there are expectations about how they should behave because of their gender, it is called ‘gender stereotyping’.

  • There may be confusion about the words, sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women, which are universal and do not change. Gender refers to social attributes that are learned or acquired during socialisation as a member of a given community.

Gender therefore refers to the socially given attributes, roles, activities, responsibilities and needs connected with being men (masculine) and women (feminine) in a given society at a given time, and as a member of a specific community within that society.


Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, Council of Europe:

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