When I first came upon the news that the IITs are creating a supernumerary reservation for women, I also came upon a vast diversity of opinions in various sources, praising the move. Articles chronicled the long history of poor representation of women in engineering colleges, strongly supported the committee which had the first panel which had recommended it, even while others questioned whether the move went far enough. The discussion was thorough and had clearly been taking place for months from January to April of 2017. There were opinions from seasoned academics, analysing the move and making recommendations on the way forward, and from students, both aspirants and those who were already enrolled at the institutes. The fact is that this is a discussion that needs to happen, and it’s a discussion that shouldn’t just end. We should always strive to balance our education, and the low proportion of girls in engineering is abysmal. It is important to encourage more girls to enter the field, and we need to make sure that not only are policies encouraging this but also making sure that they are being followed through and enforced. We need to constantly look over our policies to determine if they are achieving the goals they were intended for, and finding ways to improve them.
Cut to a little over a month later. Even as exams begin wrapping up in Delhi University, the attention is on the admission season, with results being declared and the registration process having begun. The dialogue seems to be focussing exclusively on the toppers, examining the performance of girls versus boys or government schools vs private. And as always, the discussion has been about the high marks and the inevitable skyrocketing cutoffs, spiced this year a little by the controversy over the CBSE’s Marks Moderation Policy.
Finishing my MA and thus, being more caught up in the admission cycle and debates than before, I couldn’t help but hark back to when I was finishing school myself and facing my own anxieties and doubts regarding college choices and cutoffs. The discussion on the reservation for girls was there, however, what I remembered more than anything else was my frustrations about the status of psychology in Delhi University, a subject I had taken in school and had been eager (at the time) to pursue in college.
In the intensive discourse on bridging gender gaps, overcoming the disadvantage women face in admissions and college, finding ways to overcome gender inequality and rooting out patriarchal norms and notions, there is a stark silence on some aspects of college education, with almost little to no opinion being raised on the disadvantages interested boys face in opting for some courses. Perhaps the best examples of this are the programs offering various bachelor’s degrees in psychology and elementary education in Delhi University. Of the 12 colleges offering some sort of a degree in psychology in DU, only 5 are co-educational, none of them part of the conventional definition of elite colleges in the university. Girls have the option of studying the subject at prestigious institutions such as Lady Sri Ram College (LSR), Daulat Ram College and Jesus and Mary College (JMC). Of the five viable options for boys, only one (Zakir Hussain College) comes close to these in terms of reputation and infrastructure. One of the remaining four is an evening college, severely limiting the options of boys wanting to enter the field. Bad as the situation is in psychology, it is even worse in the elementary education program. Eight colleges offer the degree, yet not one of them are co-educational. A boy simply cannot dream of doing his bachelor’s in DU and yet hope to teach in elementary school.
It is this contrast in realities that raises the question of how much we’re doing to actually bridge the gender gap. It is undeniable that we need more women becoming engineers, but do we not want more boys becoming therapists and counsellors? Do we really not want any men teaching in elementary schools? I have no doubt that the shutting out of boys from these fields is grounded in the old patriarchal notions of segregation of professions for boys and girls, of the ‘manly’ engineering and the ‘feminine’ arts. The idea that elementary school teaching and psychology is ‘women’s work’ is undeniably a construct rooted in patriarchy, but what explains the deafening silence on the issue by those who advocate for gender equality?
Why is it that apart from a few stray voices, the vociferous and engaging discourse on gender and education bypasses these issues? Shouldn’t we be encouraging boys to take up these courses? If we’re comfortable with a supernumerary reservation for women in engineering colleges, shouldn’t we at least ask for more co-educational colleges to offer psychology and elementary education? Failing that, couldn’t we at least reserve a few supernumerary seats for boys in these courses in women’s colleges until we can convince co-educational colleges to introduce these courses? Or are we comfortable in only eliminating gender disparity in those fields where women are underrepresented, ignoring the ones with male underrepresentation? How serious are we really about closing the gaps between genders and eliminating the constructs of patriarchy?
Image used for representative purposes only.