Gender-Equal Education in Practice
Written by: Khushi Vijayvergiya
If life were to be a pottery class, childhood would be the wet clay that the potter moulds on the wheel. It is the time in an individual’s life when they learn the most quickly, are most impressionable and form mindsets that last their lifetime. It is very hard to shake an idea which takes root in a person’s life in their childhood, and this is why it is very important to teach children the right things, show them the right examples and the most consistent way to do that is through education, because it provides a constant medium to channel ideas to children in a steady manner.
I spent two years working with children of classes 4th-6th, in two different setups. One was an institutional setup where we organised skill building workshops in a government school whereas the other was a less formal, non-institutionalised space where we assisted underprivileged children to remain at pace with their studies after school hours. Both experiences were very different in their approaches but shared more in common when it came to our objectives.
One of the main goals we worked towards with these children was to create awareness about gender equality. We worked to eliminate the several gender stereotypes that start to take root in children’s mind when they are about 8-10 years of age. We wanted to sensitise them about the importance of gender equality, and it was particularly challenging to teach young boys about these basic yet fundamental ideas because they grow up in deeply patriarchal family with little or no education, and in such situations, stereotypes take root quite easily since children learn from the adults around them.
One of the methods we adopted to put across the lessons of gender equality, was to use what these young boys considered “cool”. Most of them were fans of Bollywood stars like Tiger Shroff, Varun Dhawan, Hrithik Roshan among others. Hence, we decided to include their “role models” in our lessons. We used to show them action scenes where these actors fight valiantly, and as the boys would cheer on, we would follow up with a video of women performing the same stunts, even riskier ones. This helped us break that line between a “lesson” and “conversation”. By showing them the video of their favourite male actor doing something they think represents strength, courage and power, we would bring their inherent stereotype to the surface and instantly contradict it using the video of a woman performing similar stunts. This method proved to be very successful because children are more attentive to visual aids instead of lectures and it opened up conversations about their naive notions of masculinity, femininity, strength, and weakness and the correlation among these factors.
Most of these children came from below poverty line families, underprivileged and uneducated households, so we felt the need to use real life examples with which they could relate better. Hence, instead is using professions such as lawyer, doctor, engineer as examples, we decided to exemplify gender equality through jobs they see around them, like construction worker, housemaid and so on. We tried to break their stereotype of household work being the responsibility of women alone, as our attempt to inculcate in them a modified understanding of what it means to be a man and to break the stereotypes regarding “things that make you less of a man”. We asked these boys to recount to us all the work their mother and sisters do around the house in a day. Then we gave them a task where they were supposed to perform those chores. This led to the boys realising how much work the women in their house put in and how much strength these chores demand. They also realised how integral these chores are to their everyday life and how it would become very inconvenient if their mothers stopped doing them even for a day. We also showed them how women also work at construction sites along with men, to uproot their stereotypes.
These small, simple and effective methods did help us to achieve our objective at least partially because a lot of boys realised that both men and women are supposed to be treated fairly and how can they contribute towards gender equality in their houses. Through simple, everyday examples of life around the, we helped those boys to reform their mindset and ideas about gender, no matter if even in a small way.