Impact Stories 24th November, 2016

Working towards a normative change.

In India, historically the condition of the girl child in Punjab and Haryana has been among the worst. According to the Census of 2001, Punjab had a sex ratio at birth of 778 females per 1000 males and child sex ratio of 798 females per 1000 males. Further, Haryana had a sex ratio at birth of 809 females per 1000 males and child sex ratio of 819 females per 1000 males. In 2011, the sex ratio at Birth in Haryana rose to 943 females per 1000 males and the child sex ratio to 918 females per 1000 males. Thus, we can say  improvements have been seen over the past one decade.

We have to understand the factors which lead to violence against the girl child. One of the most important factors is class. For the upper, land holding class in Haryana, the demand for inheritance rights has legitimized dowry as a share. In Haryana, those women who ask for landholding/ property share are considered as ‘bad women’. The woman is left with a choice between visiting her parental house post marriage or a share in land holding. In the middle income group, though the preference for a male child is not so stark, the number of boy’s still remains on the higher side. In the lower income group where there is no or negligible asset to transfer, the male child is considered as “budhape ka sahara” (support during old age).  

Thus, to address the declining sex ratio we need to target norms of inequality and not only focus on numbers. At Breakthrough, we work towards normative change. We target adolescent school students and try to trigger their critical thinking by discussing gender based discrimination with them in a structured manner. This is done through a life skill education module over a period of time. For the last three years, we have been running these programmes with students of 150 Government schools (18000 boys and girls) spread across over Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonipat and Panipat. I would like to share one small achievement of one of the schools we are working with in Haryana.

The ‘Taron ki Toli’ students from Gudhan school (Rohtak) took a very courageous step which is an example of the change we are working towards. For a long time, these students were troubled by some of the difficulties they were facing at school. They called the village sarpanch to the school and communicated with him about the problems they were facing. They told the sarpanch about how some boys would come post school hours and vandalise school property and also about how a group of boys would stand at the school gate, every day when school got over and how this was an uncomfortable situation for girls. They also voiced their concern about how the road to their school was broken and there was a sewage like situation that was forming in front of their school. Further, they brought to light the fact that their classroom ceiling would leak which was resulting in their textbooks getting spoilt. They also told him how they wanted to take part in sports like wrestling and kabaddi but the two challenges coming in their path were the lack of a trainer or a teacher and a space to play.

The Sarpanch heard what the students had to say carefully and then responded addressing each grievance individually. He asked them to give him information about the boys who are causing them problems. He promised to speak to the families of these boys, and if need be, also involve the police. Further, he promised to speak to the concerned authorities and get the road and the leakage problem fixed. As far as the space for playing sports like wrestling and kabaddi was involved, he asked them to choose a space within school premises which he would get ready for them to play. The sarpanch appreciated the fact that the students gave so much though to issues related to their school and their own well being.

Identifying gender discrimination is the first step to address gender bias sex selection. Devaluation of girls is the root cause of low child sex ratio. Discriminatory practices against girls is a result of complex socioeconomic and cultural factors. Mindsets deeply rooted in patriarchal values devalue the girl child. Gender bias social norms and practices reinforce the perception of daughter as liabilities and the dowry system, sexual harassment and violence against women are the several ways in which this mindset manifests itself.

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