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Co-education: First Step to Co-Existence of the Three Sexes

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By Shruthi Venukumar:

The modern age is touted to be of animated inclusion rather than seclusion. Just like all-round economic growth, gender equality (a facet of social growth) also will stem from greater interaction between the two sexes rather than from partitioning them with a (now) threadbare curtain. On one hand we lay great emphasis on inclusion of women in the workforce and making the environment conducive for both sexes – the unisex way of looking at things – while on the other hypocritical hand, single gender educational institutions still exist… resting (rusting) on reasons long gone obsolete.

Single gender educational institutions began as a means to incorporate women into the educational ambit in an era when social segregation of the two sexes was a matter of strict practice. This was perhaps the only way to make sure that girls got an education; by ensuring that they would pursue studies in an alternate environment checked-free from the “corrupting” influence of the male.

This might still be resorted to advisably in parts of the world where the social stigma attached to male-female interaction is so high-strung that the just-mentioned angle of the only hope of getting girls into a classroom is by creating gender-specific teaching institutions. This too should be a temporary arrangement; a fulcrum to uphold universal education till social change in the form of complete acceptability of male-female social interaction reaches penetrable maturity in the minds of people. The morale behind all-boys educational institutions lay on the claim that education was a male domain; an “argument” that is considered not only chauvinistic but a verbal violation of human rights by today’s standards.

Society has come a long way since the time that has been spoken about. Men and women are considered to be riding the same highway today, equal for all practical purposes. They are expected to share the same workspace since (in most cases) the budding stages of their careers. Why not flag off this process of intermixing from childhood itself in the form of co-ed schools? Co-educational institutions would ensure that men and women do not feel like awkward cogs in each other’s company later in life, when interaction cannot be omitted. I have come across many without the privilege of a co-ed background who find it a daunting task to muster up the nerve to approach the opposite sex. Healthy, fruitful discussions (be it personal or professional) are next to the proverbial impossible to conduct in such perspiring company, impeding any solution-making process sought.

If the morale of segregation is to keep the sexes morally sound on the chaste path, it is a wrongful assumption. Segregation will only lead to curiosity which can in extreme cases lead to ghastly repercussions, often sexually deviant behaviour. Like they say, curiosity kills the cat. Looking at the (comparatively) brighter extreme, complete social segregation of males and females can often lead to (like we have seen in the past) people marrying mates of literally anonymous personalities. The probability of two people with clashing personalities coming together into marital bonds and fashioning it into a success is rare. In most such cases, given the background of acquaintance, the union is successful largely because of the lifelong indoctrination of the woman into accepting the man as he is, with equal regard to the good, the bad and the ugly in him. The assumption is true if we were to reverse the role of gender and press play on the situation. Social segregation has often led to seemingly frivolous but damaging situations in which women passed up the opportunity to be rescued from a hostage situation or any difficulty because they were reluctant to present their condition to potential male saviors due to social taboos (law enforcers or otherwise).

A co-ed environment will facilitate the sexes in understanding each other’s psychology better and stave off misconceptions and generalisations about each other. Girls would realize their own potential in a practical environment where competition with boys is unavoidable, leading to their being brought up disregarding myths about their mental “inferiority” to boys. The argument that a particular gender will be comfortable discussing things concerning it in a single gender setting does not hold as co-education, if sought since early childhood, will anyway rout out any feelings of unnecessary discomfort while dealing with the opposite sex in most cases. What has often been bafflement to me is the stinging paradox in large cities that cry hoarse about gender equality but hold pride in maintaining single gender educational institutions citing their historical heritage and academic excellence. The only reason broad-minded well-to-do families send their children into these institutions seems to be the prestige attached to these. Somehow the prestige is suspected to be brought down by the act of opening up the institutions to the other sex as well.

By segregating the sexes, we just might be, without the slightest of realization, violating the rights of the third sex. In a bipolar educational world, where does the third gender fit? They might be a scientific anomaly but asking them to choose conformity to either an all-girls or all-boys environment will be practically forcing them to comply with the behavioural patterns of that particular sex. Such a person will be admitted to a single gender educational institution by parents on the basis of certain observed characteristics observed as gender-specific. The road will lead to disaster if the parents happen to wrong with their keen eyes (with the best of intentions). The child, later in life, might fail to find coherence with the behavioural patters of the sex that it is left to grow up with. The next unfortunate phase will be an identity crisis, the roots of which lie in the society’s refusal to grant the person the freedom of choice concerning their identity. Crueler treatment to a gender whose social awkwardness has relegated itself miles away from even the lowest rung of the educational ladder. Why must the third sex be forced to choose between the two dominant blocks of behavioural sexuality as a price for education? Self-exploration of such a person to arrive at their inherent behaviour is possible only if allowed to. And it is only through their self-exploration that our awareness about them would rise to a tolerant level. Holding to light this side of reasoning, it would seem that co-education is important not only for the wholesome development of just men and women but everyone whom God has decided to put on the planet as his/her/its best creation.

For Yin, for Yang and for God’s open ambiguous gender changeling, co-education is synonymous with co-existence today.

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The writer is a Senior Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz. You can know more about her here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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