By Dr. Renu Golwalkar:
CARE India has been, for the last several decades, working to empower women and girls from the most marginalised communities across India, enabling them to live secure and resilient lives with dignity. The organisation’s primary goal is to work with 50 million women and girls, to help them meet their health, education and livelihood entitlements.
Over 60% of women, between the ages of 20-24, with no education, were married before 18. Regarding domestic violence, there are several gaps in the implementation of laws at the state level, as 82 % respondents are dissatisfied with the complaint redressal of government institutions such as helplines and police stations. Only 72 % of the stakeholders involved in addressing domestic violence issues were aware of all the various provisions under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. As per other statistics, as of 2012, 40 % of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40 % lacked a separate toilet for girls.
There is a need to be more aware of the challenges women and girls in our country still face, and what we, as a society, can do to make a more a gender-sensitive environment, bust stereotypes, and make our children, whether boys or girls, more gender-friendly. Some insightful tips on how to gender sensitise children:
Children learn a lot from their immediate surroundings — families, friends, school, neighbourhood, media and books. Stereotypes based on gender and its internalisation starts at an early age. Children, who grow up in gender-equitable environments, tend to believe in gender stereotypes less than their peers, who grow up in a gender-inequitable environment.
It is important for parents to treat girls and boys equally (food, sports, education, equal celebration at birth, etc.). Parents are the first role models children have. So, if they grow up seeing gender inequality being exercised or tolerated in this relationship, they are more likely to be exposed to negative gender role stereotyping. It is important for parents to share household chores as well as outside chores, participate equally in financial matters, exhibit joint decision making and treat each other with respect.
Often, parents try to shield children from incidents related to gender-based violence, but children still get to know of these issues through friends or media exposure. It is important for parents to talk to children about gender-related issues in an age-appropriate manner so that they grow up to be more gender-aware, gender-responsive and respectful.
Mutual respect for all irrespective of their sex, caste, socio-economic status, religion, region and educational status. These are core values which start getting ingrained in young minds from an early age. Hence, it is important to imbibe mutual and unconditional respect, equality and opportunity amongst all to lay a strong foundation for a gender-equal society.
Gender is often misrepresented as pertaining only to women and girls. It is important to create awareness that society creates gender norms and stereotypes. Gender stereotypes impact all of us, yet affect women, girls and the ‘third gender’ more.
Through knowledge, skills and leadership development of girls and women, we can build a resilient, empowered, and motivated generation. Such a generation will have high aspirations for self and a commitment to gender equality and equity.
We all must share responsibility and commitment towards gender equality, not only women and girls. It also should not focus only on women and girls. Engaging with men and boys is equally important and helps in creating an enabling environment for an equitable society.
Service providers – whether education, health, financial, or legal – play a significant role in reinforcing gender stereotypes. If we sensitise this group on gender, they can promote positive gender roles and norms, leading to a wider impact. They can also provider gender-sensitive services such as separate toilets in schools for girls. Further, specified areas in public places for young mothers to feed their infants would help a lot. Also, there should be discussions about crèche facilities at workplaces for young mothers who lack support systems.
Breaking barriers require bold steps by both women and men, paving way for an enabling environment. Recognising the ‘positive deviants’ in our society like Mary Kom, the Phogat Sisters and their father is important. We must promote their stories to motivate others for progressive change.
All forms of media must promote positive gender role models and equitable gender norms through movies, shows, documentaries, and articles. They can communicate to the masses and have an impact due to the depth of messaging and the reach.