In a country where the average biology lesson on reproduction is received with tense giggling and shifty expressions, the Indian state of Telangana in the south, has just unveiled ‘Towards a World of Equals,’ a textbook which will include “complex subjects like female-centric history and male-female relationships,” among a host of things. The book will be used during a pilot period in select colleges as part of the undergraduate course. Also covering “the political movements of Afro-American, Caribbean, African, Dalit and minority women,” it is hoping to cement any gaps in the students’ understanding of gender.
Academically, ‘gender’ has not been given much importance outside the disciplines of sociology, or women’s studies, even being seen as a ‘lesser’ subject of study. But growing concern over the last few years, about issues of discrimination, harassment and violence, has finally brought to the fore discussions on gender-based restrictions, toxic masculinity and self-diminishing femininity, sexual orientation, gender identities and various intersections with caste, class, religion and ethnicity. While there has been important scholarship on all of this, a lot of it cannot and has not been disseminated. Telangana’s new textbook, then, serves as a crucial entry point to these themes for young men and women in India.
The course will give students a tempered environment and an opportunity to think about gender in a way that has not been encouraged before, either by their families, or society at large. Given the marked silence on issues of women’s agency and sexual choice, of consent, of masculinized aggression and feminized obedience, or the mistreatment of trans or non-binary persons, this course could not have come sooner.
As governments across the world begin to recognize the need for and social value of these specialized education programs, the news from other countries is also inspiring.
Under the China National Program for Women’s Development, India’s neighbour to the north is conducting similar sessions for Chinese school children as well as teaching staff. It is hoped that these will go on to become a part of the curriculum. Many countries in Latin America have successfully implemented sexuality education programs to address bodily integrity, reproductive rights, and sexual health of young people. In 2013, France too had introduced a program called ‘ABCD de ‘légalité‘ (The ABCD of Equality) to the curriculum in 275 schools, but was forced to withdraw it after aggressive protests from conservative members of society.
Conservatives exist everywhere, but we hope that Telangana’s new initiative will escape such a fate, and be developed further for curricula in other institutions of higher education, and even schools!
Gender sensitization workshops with adults or working professional are seen as an inroad to creating important conversations and changing attitudes, but it may be too little too late. Even the most well-intentioned workshop can devolve into corporate eyewash, or not follow up with participants, or shy away from being something sustained and sustainable – that is, all conversation ends when participants leave the room.
A gender education course, which is sustained, and to which students must pay attention, could therefore, be more effective.
If handled with care and the will to be inclusive – both in its content, and in its target demographic – the course could potentially create a generation of sensitive, sensible and empowered people. Maybe these students will see incredible and positive change in gender relations in their lifetime. One can hope, right?
This article was originally published here on Cake.