New UN Women initiative will reimagine fairy tales to promote gender equality


UN Women Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia kicks off new creative writing initiative, Awake Not Sleeping: Reimagining fairy tales for a new generation, which aims to support a dialogue to change the ways society thinks about women’s and girls’ roles, human potential, and rights.

Fairy tales allow kids to escape from reality, but they can also have a strong educational power informing girls and boys on gender equality and feminism.

The initiative will explore the role of fairy tales in the cultural struggle over gender equality and feminism. For this purpose, the "forgotten" narratives which highlight shifting attitudes towards the role of women and girls will be applied in a collection of new fairy tales. These stories will inform younger generations about changing attitudes to women, gender equality and feminism, having in mind that the stories that children grow up with are vitally important in shaping who they are as adults.

The role of fairy tales in shifting gender stereotypes

Tales and historical characters are part of each society’s cultural heritage, disseminated through the generations via oral, pictorial, and written tradition. They play a great role in conveying folklore elements, root values and norms including gender norms. For children, tales constitute an entire part of their socialization process stimulating their imagination, creativity and enabling their identification with characters. While tales allow them to temporarily escape from reality, they have a strong educational power helping girls and boys to grow and develop their personality.

Awake not sleeping: Reimagining fairy tales for a new generation

Marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in line with the Generation Equality Forum, expected in 2021 as an intergenerational and intersectional gathering of women’s activists to create a renewed momentum and accelerate progress towards women’s rights and leaving no-one behind, UN Women will garner efforts to enable positive change and promote gender equality by devoting a modern fairy tales’ collection targeting young readers and citizens of tomorrow.

“The world is changing dramatically. It is particularly poignant that as the COVID-19 pandemic forces people’s physical disconnection, it is also showing how people are all connected by histories, literature and social interactions which are grounded on common values of humanity,” says Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, “Despite all detrimental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also the opportunity to reflect and even more importantly, act to make gender equality and human rights a lived reality for all.”

The path to a collection of fairy tales

Fairy tales were originally written by women for women.

In September 2020, UN Women has brought together feminist writers from the region in the first workshop to start re-imagining familiar fairy tales for a new generation. To bring these reimagined Awake Not Sleeping fairy tales to life, the project will:

  • Support feminist writers to develop Awake Not Sleeping stories;
  • Publish the first 5 Awake Not Sleeping stories, associated campaign and resources for children, educators and families during the 16 Days of Activism for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (November 2020);
  • Publish the full collection of 25 Awake Not Sleeping stories associated campaign and resources for children, educators and families on International Women’s Day 2021 (March 2021);
  • E-library of feminist story books will be created and shared with partners.