Do you think girls and boys are treated as equals? Of course not. This is the reality of not only one city or country but is the case world over. Often this poses the challenge of how do you combat this issue of gender disparity. More often than not, you would come across articles or media covering the issues but very few will supplement it with any solution. Well, one effective way to overcome gender inequality is through education. Education helps to develop your perspective of the world around you and knowledge empowers you. If education on gender equality is included in the curriculum of schools, we could create a gender sensitized generation which does not believe in the regressive patriarchal norms of society.
When you dwell deeper into how can you use education to attain gender equality, teachers are the main components in this process. How often do you hear your teacher say humankind as opposed to mankind, or use ‘he/she’ to present an example and not only ‘he’? In reality, teachers’ unconscious gender-stereotyped attitudes and biases can affect classroom practices, and result in differential treatment towards both boys and girls. Saloni, a secondary school teacher acknowledges this, “Teachers prefer boys for certain activities such as sports and would not give that much of an opportunity to the girl students.” Shaheen Chaiwala, a Pune based teacher, who has been in this profession for the past 10 years believes the same and feels that now, teachers have become more gender sensitized. Both the teachers agree that value education can be used effectively, in creating a generation that is well aware of gender equality and its importance. Speaking from experience, Shaheen says she shows her students documentaries on gender equality after which a discussion takes place in class. She further adds, “The discussions are working, as one of my male students came up and told me he wanted to learn cooking, so that he could help his mom in the kitchen and use the time to teach her English.” But, what happens when the student receives contrasting views on gender, at home, from what he is learning in school. This is where regular parent-teachers meetings come in, when teachers speak to the students and their parents on a one-to-one basis on gender based issues.
A major change that needs to be brought about in the content being taught in schools is the visuals used in textbooks. Japleen Pasricha, founder of Feminism In India.com, recalls that as a student she remembers her textbooks having simple images like the boys playing outside or working with tools while the girls dressing up the dolls or helping the mother with household chores which instil the same old stereotypes. According to research, the way to rectify this is, by using visual that does not represent women/girls in the stereotypical way, more stories of successful women could be incorporated in textbooks. Japleen also feels, “Simple yet gender-stereotype breaking activities like roti making competition, fixing the tube light where both girls and boys participate equally can be incorporated.”
Certain non-profit organisations also are working towards the goal of implementing gender equality based content in curriculums, by teaming up with schools. Breakthrough, India, a non-governmental organisation believes that gender equality is a human right. They have started a programme called “Taaron ki Toli” to educate students of 312 schools in various districts of Haryana on gender equality. It advocates gender equality by training students from classes 7 to 9. The success of the programme lies in the method of training, which goes beyond classroom teaching by including application based games- students are made to play games or are asked vital questions like which are the spaces that make you feel uncomfortable, this brings out their personal thoughts and opinions proving that girls and boys are equal. According to Veenu Kakkar, team leader of Taaron ki toli, “Breakthrough’s workbook on gender equality which is taught in schools, has shown results.” Veenu goes on to narrate an incident where one of the male students under the training overheard a health official speak in class on precautions to take while sweeping, he was seen addressing only the girls. To this the boy got up and said why are you only talking to the girls, does it mean that boys cannot sweep?
A number of schools have adopted gender equality as part of the curriculum which has resulted in the change of the mindset of boys as well as girls. One such individual is Ileana Jiménez, a feminist teacher. She has taught feminism in various schools in the US as well as in India. You can read more on the work she does here: http://feministteacher.com/
You could be a part of this change as well, having a dialogue with people who are a part of the education system can go a long way also, as an individual be conscious of what you say so that you do not promote gender stereotypes or pass sexist remarks. An interesting quote by Sonia Sotomayor, the third woman to serve in the High Court of the United States: “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”
– Zeenat Tinwala