Parents–key to fighting child sexual abuse

PARENTS – KEY TO FIGHTING CSA

Interview with Vidya Reddy, Tulir, by S. Meera

Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) – works against child sexual abuse in India. One of the key messages they impart is that cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) exist, but in silence due to the discomfort it generates if acknowledged. Accepting and taking the initiative to respond in a timely and appropriate manner keeping children’s safety in mind is not only a priority, but also a necessity. This will enable children to grow in a safe and enjoyable environment, says Vidya Reddy, who works at Tulir.

Can you tell us about your work done with schools under the Personal Safety Education programme that you conduct?

We don’t do anything in isolation. Personal Safety Education is one of our programmes for schools, but there are multiple ways Tulir can help schools become safe. Whichever aspect is received well, we go with that and then expand the scope organically, depending on response and the needs of each school.

Government schools in Tamil Nadu have been far more receptive to the idea of creating awareness and responding appropriately in their schools. The Director of School Education, in fact, has evolved a reporting system in the schools for such cases. In our experience, private schools in Tamil Nadu should hang their heads in shame. Most private schools are in denial and find several excuses for not creating awareness and establishing systems to enhance child safety. For example, we had been doing CSA workshops annually for a few years in one school. However,  they asked us to take a break one year. The reason – they felt that by doing it every year, they were giving the impression that they had a serious problem of CSA in their school!

Many private schools think that CSA cannot happen in their schools. This is ignoring the reality on the ground. There is no one profile for the perpetrator. They bust every stereotype – they can be educated, married, even have children of their own. Most often, they seek jobs where they can have access to children. Schools are places where abuse or disclosure of an abuse can happen. Schools need to accept that and be prepared for it.

How do you think schools can be equipped to handle and work against child sexual abuse?

They can start with a self-audit for themselves – this way, they can know the situation on the ground and take necessary action to improve the safety levels in their school. Tulir as a facilitator can provide guidelines.

This is just the first step. If nothing else at all, I believe schools need to follow at least these five tenets, which together form a framework to provide children with a safe environment and protect an adult from false allegations:

  1. Take steps to overcome the risks. When hiring a teaching or a non-teaching staff, it is important to look beyond qualifications and experience. If there are gaps in the resume, or if the candidate has hopped schools often, find out why. I think even when recruiting volunteers, this exercise should be followed.

In addition, value interviewing is important as it helps assess their capability to handle awkward situations – for instance, ask how the candidate would react if a student had a crush on him/her.

  1. Then look at your training for teachers to help them understand children’s development issues, not just cognitive and physiological but also psychosexual. I understand you cannot provide training to each and every recruit, but you can have online tutorials and make undergoing that training mandatory for a promotion or a raise.
  2. Code of Conduct – do you have a policy on how the staff should behave with children? Have clear guidelines so staff members are aware of expectations, such as: no staff can be alone with a child, someone else must be present; or if you have to, then you must keep the door open.
  3. Reporting process – every school must have a system for reporting concerns about a child or staff, for instance, having a whistleblower’s clause. Again, the TN government has been proactive in this.
  4. How one manages a reported instance also needs to be thought of. For instance, have a committee that includes an odd number of members and an outside agency to deliberate on what further steps to take. Schools also must consider how they will handle cases of one child abusing another.

Where do you see the challenge in reporting CSA and implementation of the process?

Schools are very aware that they have problems. However, they fear it is a can of worms best not examined too closely. They stonewall and try to play it down.

The second and greater challenge is parents themselves. Ironically, the more educated and well-heeled parents are the ones who usually underplay any kind of safeguarding needed to keep their child safe. Even if the child reports, they want to hush it up and do not bring it to the notice of the authorities concerned. PTAs should demand that their schools implement child protection policies. Any child deserves justice, and being believed is the simplest and most powerful form of justice for a child. More often than not, they are disbelieved and shamed.

Studies show that only 12-24 percent of instances of CSA get disclosed, and only a miniscule of that gets reported to authorities. Parents are the key; they must stop deluding themselves with myths about CSA. Their mindsets have to change, and that can happen only with greater awareness. They must be able to handle uncomfortable topics – for instance, today children are watching pornography because they have easier access. Parents need to acknowledge that and guide their children to process what they see.

POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) 2012 very correctly makes school management responsible for any incident of CSA in their school, which they may have been aware of but did not act upon. Law is the not the only recourse, but even if it has to be enforced, and if there is a complaint,the success depends on the child not turning hostile. The greatest risk is from parents as well as schools. Also, principals themselves need support to be able to implement and enforce protection policies.

Schools also make the mistake of assuming that having a counsellor is enough. However, are they in tune with this generation? Do they know enough about sexual violence and trauma to be suggesting and taking appropriate steps?

These are some of the issues we at Tulir address through our workshops and by working closely with schools that want to provide a safe environment. Between November 28 and 30, we will be conducting a workshop, ‘Safe Schools: Supporting schools address child sexual abuse, holistically’ under our continuing workshop series – Connecting the Dots. The lead facilitator will be Dr Lois J Engelbrecht, who has helped create systems of prevention and response to sexual abuse of children in the Phillippines, Malaysia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and Vietnam.

 

Life in a girl’s Porta-Cabin

LIFE IN A GIRLS PORTA-CABIN: A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

by Rashmi Kumari

porta-cabin

Porta-cabin at Sunset. Picture by Rashmi Kumari

Jayashree*, a shy eighth-standard student, loved to play. Enrolled at a ‘Porta-cabin’ in Ankaluru village of Bijapur district in Chattisgarh, Jayashree participated in kabaddi competitions held at the village. Her excitement was palpable when Porta-cabin’s warden (Adhikshaka) recommended her name in the school’s team to compete in the under-14 Block-level competitions. However, she had an unusual problem – Jayashree didn’t know her age.

Like Jayashree, all the 11 girls who were recommended for the kabaddi team were unaware of their dates of birth. This may have been a non-issue for most children in this tribal belt, as documenting one’s age is not a common practice among their community. However, for a student, issues such as this assume several facets. Under one of the RTE norms, free and compulsory education is provided to children between the ages of six and 14 years. This makes proof of age for these children important to be enrolled in the mainstream school portal. Age is also an important factor for children to participate in any event held at different levels.

For children who stay with their parents, this may not pose a big problem. Jayashree and her friends, who hail from interior villages (andarwale gaon) and stay at residential Porta-cabins, depend on their school staff (Anudeshaks and Adhikshaks) to know their age and dates of birth. A common practice among the staff is to guess a child’s age and assign a date of birth depending on their own religious and national sentiments. Popular dates are Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanthi, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day. This is primarily because many of these students at the Porta-cabin were either displaced or orphaned due to the violence that shook Chattisgarh during Salwa Judum.

Caught in the crossfire between different actors involved in the bloody conflict, these children were encouraged to take shelter in make-shift residential schools, a.k.a. Porta-cabins, by the then district authorities. Driven by the fact that permanent school structures were used by military and para-military forces as a base for their operations and the consequent destruction of these structures by the Maoists, authorities came up with a so-called ‘innovative’ solution – creation of temporary, prefabricated bamboo structures that could be relocated at a short notice. These cabins were supposed to be an immediate, short-term solution to provide safer spaces to children affected by the conflict. However, they have been made concrete and are replacing the non-residential school in some respect.

Hailed as a most ‘successful’ initiative, 500-seater Porta-cabins started springing up across the violence-hit Bastar region. A total of 65 cabins providing free education to children until the eighth standard were established between the intervening period of 2008 and 2013. Following the incidents of sexual harassment, these schools were further segregated along the lines of gender. During this phase of expansion, Porta-cabins underwent a transformation. Prefabricated bamboo structures gave way to concrete structures; a temporary solution was now regarded as a permanent substitute for regular government schools in the area. ‘Adarsh Gurukul’ became ‘Avasiya Vidyalaya’.

The transition of these schools from Adarsh Gurukul to Avasiya Vidyalayas may not be a co-incidence. In the official discourses that seldom talks about the community’s needs and perceptions, Porta-cabins have been hailed as the best solution to provide ‘safe’ spaces for conflict-hit children. Located at the fringes of Naxal dominated areas, Porta-cabins were also intended to serve as an example to the local population. The then collector of Dantewada, O.P. Chaudhary, gives his rational for promoting Porta-cabins in a paper he co-authoured with Manisha Priyam and Sanjay Chopra.

“There was a constant threat of naxal violence.  The fringe area schools were developed as clusters of development – building of roads, bridges, electricity, drinking water, and health facilities was veered around them. It helped to create a demonstration effect for the people from interior villages,” the paper argues.

The geographical location of these residential schools hint at a two-fold assumption of safety.  At one level, the campus is assumed to be safeguarded by the very presence of a police station and a CRPF camp right by its side. On another level, it is assumed that the children will be ‘mainstreamed’, reducing the possibility of falling into the ‘wrong hands’.

During my stay in the area, I found that most Porta-cabins were located at the peripheries of the villages adjacent to the CRPF camps. Girls’ residential schools, such as Ankaluru Porta-cabin, were also supposed to be a ‘no-male’ premises, making them ‘safer’ for girls.

The phrase ‘safer for girls’ is a politically charged statement. Keeping the girl child as a central figure in the discourses of global politics is a form of “child politics” (Baird 2008) in general and “girl child politics” (Berents 2016) in particular. As Berents further says that in the discursive figure of the “girl child the protective, patriarchal and innocent discursive framings become more explicit”. (Berents, 2016). A gender identity does not stand in isolation with other identities of caste, tribe, class and race. Hence, it is also not immune to the power and hierarchies of the society. Hierarchy in a society is generally maintained through spatial segregation. Feminists studies of schooling, curricula have pointed out how within the institutional knowledge and contexts, gender ideologies are maintained and reproduced (Bhog 2002, Chanana 2001, Manjrekar 2013). School knowledge and practices often work in tandem with the heteronormative patriarchal society to present a ‘normalised’ male-dominated world.

The state-led effort of ‘mainstreaming’ children presents numerous challenges for girl students such as Jayashree. Contradictions in the concept of Porta-cabin present themselves at several levels. These girls are removed from their own communities, which are considered to be easily influenced by the Maoist ideology, so that they will be kept safely away from violence and armed resistance. Kept at a close proximity to the armed state forces, girls, however, are constantly reminded about the violence engulfing their lives.

Further more, even if the security forces stopped occupying majority of the school premises as their operations base following the 2011 Supreme Court order, these premises are still under constant scanner of security forces. Girls at Ankaluru Porta-cabin were constantly reminded about the presence of armed soldiers during the patrols conducted by the CRPF and state police forces twice a week. During these patrols, the armed policemen form a ring around the school and the residential areas. Interestingly, policemen always face the inhabitants and subject them to a constant gaze. Intensity of these patrols increased significantly around Independence Day celebrations.

The pattern of these patrols point out that though the children are in ‘safe’ spaces, they also seem to be posing some kind of threat to the state which necessitates a constant surveillance. Many a times during my fieldwork, block officials and government para-teachers (Sikshakarmi) pointed out to me that these children, who come to Porta-cabin, are the children from “andarwale gaon” meaning either ‘liberated’ villages or Naxal strongholds. Hence, there was a necessity for the government to bring them into mainstream through education.

The aim of education, say Krishna Kumar and Latika Gupta, “is to enable all children to realize their right to participate in governance as sensitive and responsible citizens” (Kumar and Gupta, 2008: 27). They further note that it is a difficult aim for children from Dalit, tribal, minority and other groups to achieve. It also becomes a two-fold battle for girls belonging to these groups, because they not only have to face the general deprivation that these communities face but also the suppressive forces that every girl faces (ibid).

Navigating their ways through the geographical challenges of these terrain and political challenges posed due to the dispute over resources, these girls are fighting a larger war and hoping to continue their studies after middle school. Some of them are able to join high schools and some are still waiting for high school hostels to be constructed in their village. When asked about her future plans and aspirations, Jayashree, who is about to complete her eighth standard, smiles and says, “Madamji, hostel me hi rehkar padhenge.”

*Names of people and places have been changed to protect their identity.

(Rashmi Kumari finished her MPhil at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2016. This article is an excerpt from her MPhil thesis that was based on her fieldwork conducted in 2015 in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.)

References:

Baird, B. 2008. “Child Politics, Feminist Analyses.” Australian Feminist Studies 23 (57): 291–305.

Berents, H. 2016: Hashtagging girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and gendering representations of global politics, International FeministJournal of Politics,

Bhog, D. 2002. Gender and Curriculum. Economic and Political Weekly, 37, 1638-1642.

Chanana, K. 2001. Hinduism and Female Sexuality: Social Control and Education of Girls in India. Sociological Bulletin , 50, 37-63.

Kumar , K., & Gupta, L. 2008. What is Missing in Girls’ Empowerment ? Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 43 Issue, 2-27, 19-24.

Manjrekar, N. 2013. Gender, Childhood, and Work in the Nation: Voices and Encounters in an Indian School. In G. B. Nambisan, & S. S. Rao, Sociology of Education India: Changing Contours and Emerging Concerns (pp. 157-181). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Janishala

THE STORY OF JANISHALA:
AMIDST GENDERED EDUCATION AND CREATING LEARNING POSSIBILITIES

by Purnima

Janishala was started by Nirantar in 2008, in Mehroni block of Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Janishala was part of Sahjani Shiksha Kendra, Nirantar’s field intervention in the area of women’s education and empowerment. Learners at the Janishala were between 14 to 25 years of age and came from Dalit and Adivasi communities. Early marriage, along with poverty, hard labour, violence and migration, marked the lives of the young Janishala learners, as a result of which they have either not been able to complete their primary education or have had poor quality of education. A residential space like the Janishala enabled learners to engage with education in a focussed and intensive manner. It also helped quicken the pace of learning.

Such an intervention is significant in a context where out-of-school young women have no opportunity or platform to further their education. Janishala addresses this gap by focussing on quality of education and catering to the needs of women with different levels of learning. It also prepares learners for middle-school learning and mainstream examinations. The Janishala curriculum focuses on skills, technology empowerment, local knowledge and context. The five themes included in the curriculum cut across subject areas; these were Body, Media, Samaaj (Society), Bazaar (Market) and Jal, Jungle aur Zameen (Water, Forest and Land).

A critical analysis of issues of patriarchy and caste informs the entire Janishala curriculum. Unconventional areas/themes such as body and media were included in the curriculum for the first time. A focus on ‘body’ facilitates a deeper and holistic understanding of health and sexuality from a rights framework. The ‘media’ theme also provides access to news, information and technology; domains that have traditionally been the stronghold of upper caste, educated men. In these profiles, learners narrated moments of joy and happiness of coming to a residential school, the negotiations they had to make in order to come there, their achievements of learning about their bodies, questioning gender stereotypes and learning about a world beyond their own.

Sharda

janishala-1

When Sharda came to the Janishala, she was 12 years old; amongst the youngest and smallest girls in the centre. She came with a big group of girls from her village. Within the first two months, the others left;she was the only one that stayed. She had already cleared her Class 8 exam and had been enrolled in a mainstream school. She barely ever attended classes,struggling to identify letters, leave alone stringing a sentence together. Her parents were very supportive of her studying in the Janishala, but were very poor. So Sharda herself worked hard to earn the money to pay the small fee.

Once at Janishala, it was as if the padhai (study) bug had bitten her – she couldn’t get enough of the stories in the language sessions and  the ‘big sums’ in the numeracy sessions. What excited her most were the sessions on media, especially technical skills such as videography and computers. Sheonce said, with a shy glint in her eyes, that she was the “best in class”, and wanted to learn more. She was later selected to participate in a workshop on ‘new media’ in Banda, where she sharpened her Internet, video and photo skills, until she was quite the filmmaker! Her only regret was not having learnt enough English at the Janishala to send emails. She said she made friends, both with learners and teachers, at Janishala than anywhere else, and felt lonely when she went back home! She also missed, more than anything, the padhai at the Janishala. She said after being at the Janishala, she was able to think about herself and her future for the first time. After she finished 8 months at the Janishala and passed her Class 8 exam again, she enrolled in Class 9, staying on at Janishala. She managed to keep off pressure from her family to get married till she was 16 and passed her high school exam, leaving Mehroni with the determination to study further, and someday work in a DTP shop of her own.

Girja

janishala-2

It was virtually impossible to distract Girja when she was in the numeracy session, with one baby in her lap and the other one pulling at her hair. “Lakshmi, my eldest daughter, asked me why her mother is studying in school now.So I said I am studying, like you are in school. So Lakshmi asked, didn’t your mother make you study, like you make me? I said no; my mother never studied, so now I am studying on my own.”

Girja never went to school, but attended the SSK centre in her marital home, Sojna basti, occasionally. “There was always work to do, and my husband would hardly ever let me go. I wouldn’t have been able to study if I was at home, there were too many problems.” After years of domestic trouble, being abandoned by her husband over and over, and living on her own, Girja was determined to immerse herself in the Janishala experience and make the most of it. She says she has to fend for herself and her three daughters, and for this, studying further is imperative. She doesn’t feel conscious of being older than most of the girls – even when she hears rumours carried back from girls in her village, about how she has broken up a home and is studying at such a late age. “I’ve tried to keep the home together for long enough. Now it’s time to take my life in my own hands.”

Girja mostly enjoys the numeracy session, and although she cannot compare the Janishala pedagogy or curriculum with any other school, she says the combination of padhai and building an understanding and getting information on so many things is really good – it should be the only way of learning! Her favourite activity is on sexuality, as part of the Body theme, where they were asked what food people liked, and everyone liked something different. Even talking about feeling shy as a woman, and how different it would feel if they were all men, she says was interesting.

She feels quite sad about life after Janishala. She knows that between working on the fields and doing labour between agricultural seasons, it will be hard for her to study further. The closest school to her home is quite far, and there is no transport to reach there. She will have to take care of the children herself too. She would like to take tuitions in the evenings, but she knows it will be hard to afford it. Still, she thinks that some of the information she will take away from the Janishala will make her life better, more informed, more empowered.

While Janishala has provided tremendous potential for the growth of learners, it has also been a space where teachers coming from a similar context have been exposed to new ideas, concepts and learnings. Such educational spaces not only create literacy opportunities but also enable perspective building so that learners can develop critical thinking in terms of their own life and not just operate from the ideas of socialisation and conditioning.

Nirantar works on gender, sexuality, education, and women’s literacy from a feminist perspective, with a focus on the inter-linkages between class, caste, sexuality, and religion.

Teaching the girl… her place?

TEACHING THE GIRL…HER PLACE?

by Reva Yunus

The ‘cycle

It was in class V

That my father bought me a bicycle

‘go, get your own notebooks and pens now.’

On a deserted road, in that forsaken neighbourhood,

Supporting her bike, he taught her to ride.

She would whizz past on her new ‘cycle,

He would be all puffed up with pride.

Soon, the girl with the bike left her little town

For greener pastures, for the metropolis,

And fell in love…oblivious of the barriers of caste.

The ‘progressive’ father

Had never imagined

What was to merely make easier

His daughter’s life, will become a historical ‘blunder’.

~ original poem in Hindi by Asha Singh[1]

(English translation by author)

I begin with this poem because it captures multiple aspects of brahminical patriarchy, whether it is girls’ freedom of movement or endogamy and control over women’s bodies and decisions. The day when texts like this poem could become part of the “syllabus” children in India are expected to learn in schools, we can perhaps start expecting education to meaningfully tackle gender-based and other inequalities. In order for that to happen, there are questions that need to be posed to formal education.

In public and policy discourses, girls’ and women’s education is invariably linked with this very vaguely defined and unspecified term, ‘women’s empowerment’. However, given the pervasive nature of gender-based discrimination and violence across the country, we need to question this assumption that any sort of empowerment for women follows from education, particularly school education.

Alongside the question of girls’ access to school education, we also need to ask if/how the process and content of education address the question of gender injustice in our society. Existing research in India and elsewhere shows that all aspects of education – access, teaching-learning practices, content/curriculum, etc. – send students and staff messages about gender relations and roles. Yet, when it comes to debates around the fundamental right to education the only gender-based issue that gets any attention is that of access. And then every summer there is the usual flurry of comments on how well (or otherwise) girls have done with respect to boys in various subject areas.

While these are important questions, there are several other urgent questions relating to classroom texts and practices that remain unasked: what is it that girls learn when they learn how to clear examinations? What does their classroom experience as girl students –in view of the socioeconomic and cultural differences among them – tell them about the role and place of different women and girls in school and wider society? If we look at just one aspect of this experience and ask, ‘what do textbooks tell students about gender roles and relations in the world around them?’ it becomes clear that school education needs to go a long way before gender justice effectively becomes a concern, rhetoric around girls’ schooling and empowerment notwithstanding.

Existing research by feminist scholars shows that textbooks across states are overflowing with gender biases. Thus, a central component of education – curricular texts – systematically reinforce gender stereotypes by rigidly and narrowly defining the “masculine” and the “feminine”. These stereotypes send messages to both boys and girls about ideal gender roles and relations as notions of “girl”/“woman” and “man”/“boy” are constructed simultaneously, usually in opposition to each other and leaving no space for questioning a world organised through this rigid binary.

There are two related ways in which school textbooks reinforce stereotypes: one, by representing women in particular and limited ways and only showcase female characters in certain roles. Even these stories of the caring and nurturing mother or sister, or the devoted wife are narrated from patriarchal perspectives rather than from the point of view of the women themselves, thus systematically eliding and/or misrepresenting the everyday struggles of different kinds of women. In other words, such a representation of women/girls is made possible by excluding women’s experiences from textbooks.

Even when there are role models like a woman scientist or a queen, the nuances of their struggles are missing and only the dominant “feminine” is stressed through their characters. Consider the case of queen Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar (of Indore) as an example. In the Hindi language textbooks produced by the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) in Madhya Pradesh, she is only presented as a mother and a selfless and committed social worker. Her life as a young bride trying to establish a relationship with her husband and her escape from the ritual of sati are missing and so are her strategic decisions and manoeuvrings as a consummate stateswoman[2]. In other words, there is a distinct effort to de-sex women [in order to uphold the idea of the chaste, loyal, obedient woman] and to deny them abilities that are by dominant standards considered “masculine”. Thus, texts obscure the grim realities of various patriarchal family or community settings and the complex reality of women’s efforts to resist these, as well as their reasons to accommodate to these systems.

Equally important, the other axes of inequality that make things possible for some women while keeping them out of the reach of others, are missing too. For example, the SCERT mentioned above also published the astronaut Kalpana Chawla’s story in the English language textbook and the upper caste middle class teacher duly underlined Chawla’s achievements as an astronaut despite being a woman and exhorted the girls in her classroom to rise to the same standards instead of being afraid. What was missing in that classroom was a discussion of how the ideal the teacher was holding up to the girls was different in many important details of her life to the realities these girls were faced with. Or a reflection on the similarities and differences between the teacher and the students[3].

Differences of caste, religion, class and language between teachers and students also affect learning experiences in gendered ways. In the school in Indore (Madhya Pradesh) where I did my doctoral fieldwork, I found multiple instances of Brahmin teachers subjecting Dalit girls to moral policing much more severe than what other students (both boys and girls) were subjected to. Similarly, Muslim boys seemed to be under severe pressure to stick to the image of the “good” Muslim boy, i.e. to be obedient, non-disruptive and patriotic. This socialisation into desired gender ideals marked by religion, caste, etc. does not just happen in state government schools; “better- off” schools with more resourceful students or smaller class size do not show the motivation to challenge gender and other injustices either.

This problem of representation and diverse or conflicting worldviews is related to a larger issue with textbooks across the spectrum of schools in India: curricular texts usually represent the world from the point of view of the privileged. Whether it is privilege based on caste, class, or language[4] or any of the scores of other ways in which people are discriminated against in India. The problem of limiting textbooks to the life world of the Hindu, male, middle class, upper caste child, was also highlighted in the position paper Gender Issues in Education published as part of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). This is why feminist sociologists of education have argued that textbooks be produced through engagement with feminist scholarship, various women’s movements and organisations working with women.[5]

However, the existence of the NCF 2005 itself highlights the problems of inequality in and through education. While it is intended to be a national framework, not all categories of schools have implemented the framework[6]; mostly because there has been no political will to monitor and implement standards for curricular quality across schools or to commit adequate resources for an effective curricular reform. This brings me to my most important argument: that stratification in education is itself a contributing factor to gender injustice in and through education. Parents’ ability to pay for their children’s education has become the single most important factor determining the quality of education these children can access. Since the school system is stratified, there can be tremendous differences in the possibilities for teaching and learning between different kinds of schools (not only private and government but within each sector there are again different kinds of schools offering education of widely varying quality). Because of this they differ in resources, infrastructure, class-size, availability and qualifications of teachers, teachers’ working conditions as well as curriculum and pedagogic principles and practices. Thus, the resources and physical and intellectual infrastructure required to build a feminist classroom are not equally available to all girls in the country. Worse, these are usually less available to the girls most in need of it. Girls fighting multiple oppressions – born of impoverishment, anti-minority propaganda, caste-based oppression and/or discrimination based on their tribal status – often end up in least resourceful schools.

Thus, the struggle for a gender just curriculum also always has to be a struggle for equal education for all girls.

(Reva Yunus is a Ph.D. candidate is Sociology at the University of Warwick.)

[1] This is a translation of the Hindi poem ‘cycle’ by Asha Singh, currently Assistant Professor, Amity School of Communication, Amity University, Noida. The original Hindi text was published on ‘Savari’: http://www.dalitweb.org/?p=2924 ‘Savari’ is a web platform for feminist reflections and debates by Adivasi, Bahujan and Dalit women. Poem has been translated and referenced with poet’s permission.

[2] For example, a most thought-provoking portrayal of Ahilya Bai can be found in the movie Devi Ahilya Bai. It tells the story of her life before she became a devi (goddess) and a universal ‘mother’. The movie also shows the weaknesses and failings of her husband and son.

[3] My own writing throughout my PhD has been complicated by differences (caste, class, religion and location) between me and the students on the one hand, and between me and the women teachers on the other.

[4] Malini Ghose has written an excellent paper on the relationship between questions of language, literacy and those of gender and power: Literacy, power and feminism in the April 27, 2002 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly.

[5]Such material has been produced in contexts other than those of formal education.Unfortunately, as some feminist scholars have pointed out, in post-independence India, the various women’s movements have not really engaged with questions around girls’ schooling or gender issues in formal education. (Patel 1998; Manjrekar 2003)

[6]A ‘national’ framework does not imply exactly same content in textbooks across regions and schools, just a uniform standard and a framework within which schools and teachers can ideally propose a wide variety of content for different schools and classrooms.

The Inclusive Classroom

THE INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM

Teaching Peace Values to Prevent Gender Violence

by Priyadarshini Rajagopalan

There is a lot of talk in education about creating an ‘inclusive educational environment’ in schools. This term immediately suggests the process of integrating children with special educational needs into a regular classroom.[i] However, that would be a very narrow view of the term inclusive as it presupposes that the existing population of the classroom is ‘included’.

Inclusion in its entirety is not just about sharing space, but about respecting differences, accepting individuality and disallowing stereotypes. If that is true, then it is about creating an environment where there is no discrimination, intentional or otherwise, of race, socio economic status, ability or gender, to name a few. While some inequalities are apparent and therefore consciously addressed, many practices go unnoticed either because they are steeped in the culture of our society or because people are unaware of its role in perpetuating stereotypes. Skewed gender perspectives, unfortunately, go unnoticed for both reasons.

So where does it all begin? In many parts of the world, it begins with the color of the room and motifs on the nursery wall, while in others it begins with the name and preferential treatment for one gender, or the presence of stereotypical role models. The list is endless, but the result is similar; children learn early on in life that regardless of how many women police officers they see, the word ‘police’ is almost always associated with a male first.

To quote a 6 year old:

I know what a tomcat is; it’s a girl cat that thinks it’s a boy.”

I think this sets the stage for reflection. At six, this child had generalised the idea of a ‘tomboy’ and applied that belief to a tomcat. One can only assume that she had been called a ‘tomboy’ one too many times, thus the generalisation. This stereotyping of what girls are like and not like begins early[ii]. While not everyone is consciously teaching this divide, the message gets across.

Let us look at this language. If we are to try and break down ‘tomboy’ into specific characteristics, the list may read as follows:

  • Physically active – enjoys high-energy physical activity, including sports
  • Outspoken – shares ideas loudly, vocal about views
  • Practical clothing style – prefers comfortable clothing that allows for movement

Is there anything particularly related to ’boy’ here? We can say this about many people regardless of gender. While the behaviour is not necessarily gender specific, the cultural connotation is. Society has its ‘norms’ for girl behaviour and boy behaviour; therefore, displaying one not associated with your gender warrants a label.

So, what seems like an innocuous remark, in realty, hides century-old biases and goes on to contaminate many areas of gender equality. From this stem many other gender assumptions on what are considered male vs. female occupations to idiomatic language usage such as ‘girly’, ‘macho’ and  ‘effeminate’ among others.

Sometimes, the environment subtly suggests a ‘gender’ appropriateness where there should be none. For example, a friend reported how a student of hers saw a young man waiting for an interview with the Principal of the school and asked him what he was here for. The man replied that he had come to apply for the position of a teacher. The boy, all of 8 years, told him “don’t bother, she will not hire you as a teacher, you can be the gardener or watchman or bus driver but not a teacher.” Obviously, his remark came from his observations of the school environment.

Add to these the numerous intentional ways gender roles are typified and we have the makings of a generation growing up believing that the ‘male ‘and ‘female’ domains are markedly different. That men are meant to be a certain way. This belief leads to many practices, from tolerating violence to resigning oneself to many discriminations. For example, if we did find the two genders sharing equal space and responsibility at work, they are more than likely to be perceived and treated differently. This may lead to a possible pay gap between the genders.

The reason such phenomena exist is because somehow, somewhere, generations of women are willing to believe that men should be paid more to do the same job they do, because ‘they do it better’, ‘they have a family to support on their earnings’, ‘they are better leaders’ and a multitude of other such justifications. This continues to happen in hospitals, schools and in most spaces where men and women can hold comparable positions.[iii]. And yes! There are still professions that will not allow women to even apply to certain high-ranking positions.

Since a child’s first exposure to society is through home and school, if adults in these environments can become conscious of the messages that imply a gender imbalance and work towards changing them, then the child has something to compare with and question outside influences.

There are some direct and indirect ways to do this. While the skill of using non-judgmental language can be actively taught, that of acceptance and respect are better modelled. However, for both, it is important that adults be equally cognizant of their own views and ensure that they only influence children in a positive manner.

Becoming conscious and cautious with language usage is one way, as many gender biases can be perpetuated just by unintentional utterings. Adults can go a step further and challenge and discuss any preconceived idea a child may have been exposed to. This will ensure that children clarify their own thoughts and have the vocabulary and arguments to challenge these notions elsewhere.

Another way to move forward would be to make informed choices for content children are exposed to, and review/modify it if needed. To take an example from lessons at school, often the top 5  ‘inventions and inventors’‘ mentioned in text books are male, particularly if it is a scientific or mathematical invention. Having resources for students to have access to many examples, including different genders, would certainly open their mind to the possibility.

Teachers can also consciously encourage all students across all subject areas and activities. The classic line – ’girls are bad at math’ or ‘girls don’t like math’ is easy to spot and change. However, we often don’t realise how something as simple as inviting girls to decorate something or boys to help lift a table is strengthening the gender myth. It is these small impressions that can later form stereotypes. At home, not many parents spontaneously call boys to help them cut vegetables or set the table. Parents have different rules for how late their child can stay out at a friend’s place based on their gender. There are many such examples that adults need to become conscious of. That is not to say we must be contrived and begin calling only boys to cut vegetables and only girls to mow the lawn, but that we must, until it comes naturally to us, consciously offer the choice to either gender.

Another important example to set for children is for adults to stand up against biases and discrimination. As it is often said, gender violence is not just about the perpetrator, but also the silent spectators and victims who choose to tolerate the violence and don’t speak up about it. A simple step to intervene, offer/seek help and find solutions to a situation goes a long way in helping children feel empowered to do the same.

Acceptance is best demonstrated when adults treat other adults in the environment, regardless of skill, ability, gender, occupation etc., with respect. In schools, this may be as simple as making the effort to thank whoever performs a service for you, be it the person tending the garden or a teacher. The same applies to adult-child interactions as well.

There are several ways adults can help children experience a balanced gender approach in schools[iv]. To highlight a few:

  • survey and clear the environment of subtle biases
  • become conscious of one’s own views and behaviours[v]
  • consciously change and challenge discriminatory behavior
  • use non-judgmental, unbiased language[vi]
  • encourage dialogue, debate and discussions on issues of equality
  • internalize the message offered by role models

Therefore, while it would be great to have everyone treat all genders as one, it must begin with individual effort. If each committed adult consciously stops perpetuating myths, then at some point this cycle should stop.

(Priyadarshini Rajagopalan is a Montessori educator and has been a part of Prajnya’s Education for Peace Initiative since its inception.)

[i]http://www.specialeducationguide.com/pre-k-12/inclusion/

[ii]http://www.education.com/reference/article/gender-bias-in-teaching/

[iii]http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDR2012/Resources/7778105-1299699968583/7786210-1315936222006/chapter-5.pdf

[iv]https://www.dropbox.com/s/1wpo37oz3wv3nan/Gender%20Inclusive%20Schools%20Toolkit.pdf?dl=0

[v]https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/education.html

[vi]http://ielgroup.weebly.com/inclusive-vs-exclusive-language.html

Education, Gender and Violence: The 2016 Blog Symposium

This year’s campaign blog symposium centres around the global 16 Days of Activism theme: “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!”

The blogposts we’ve compiled are primarily reflections on how education can be made more inclusive and how teaching inclusiveness can be a way to prevent gender violence. We also have an interview with Vidya Reddy of Tulir, whose pioneering work with schools has put child sexual abuse on the social change agenda.