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Two Feminist Women Are Creating Gender Stereotype-Smashing Stories For Kids

By Meghna Chaudhury:

Strong, fair, sword-flinging princes saving meek, beautiful princesses are prevalent in children’s literature across the world. It’s no wonder a child grows up with subconscious beliefs of what men and women can and cannot do, and what they should aspire to be and look like.

By the time they hit puberty and before their conscious minds are even fully developed, these ideas become ‘truths’ or ‘beliefs’ for them subliminally. The rest is history… but also the present state of the world.

Here enters The Irrelevant Project (TIP) with a goal to interrupt bias, prejudice, and stereotyping in spaces of everyday learning. Started by my friend Alishya Almeida and I, the project strives to do justice by its very name: Make gender, colour, caste and other fixed definitions of identities simply irrelevant.

Co-founders (Left to Right) – Alishya Almeida and Meghna Chaudhury

Between the both of us, we realised the importance of feminism, inclusivity, and diversity awareness/sensitization in this world. We started TIP in August 2016, starting with a workshop in a government school. Soon, we realised that stories were a powerful tool to influence mindsets, which is when we shifted trajectories and decided to enter the world of children’s fiction. Constant research, discussion with peers, and analysis of the Indian children literature diaspora led us to selecting five themes. We then sought the help of like minded people—champions and believers of an egalitarian society—and undertook the ambitious task of writing, illustrating, and printing these five stories. On January 13, 2018, we finally launched our books and the response to it has been positive and constructive so far.

“Don’t Pull My Cheeks!” (On Consent)

Bibloo the precocious child who hates his uncle pinching his cheeks, finds a way to stop him from doing so. We wrote this from the point of view of a child, and the theme of the book tries to explore the grey-er areas of touch. The fact that a child is taught that an adult is unequivocally right adds to the confusion in identifying adults who cross personal boundaries. This is why most sexual abusers are people known to the child.

“Big Book of Why” (On Curiosity)

Anvesha, the curious kid loves asking questions like, “Why can we not wear short skirts in the temple?” We attempted this colorful book from the eyes of a curious child who notices status quo and rules in the society.

“Nila and Najam” (On Non Gendered Dreams)

Two twins from Coimbatore dream of careers that are diametrically ‘opposite’ to their gender. A recent email to us mentioned how the reader really loved the character descriptions of Nila, the rational one, and Najam, the ‘soft’ one, a trait hardly associated with the typical male self.

The Curious Case of Mohit and Rumi the Rabbit

The story is about a plump Mohit who realizes that fat is not a bad word and learns his body size has nothing to do with his talents. We’ve met countless children who feel pressured to look a certain way and the constant media reinforcements do not help! This book tries to offer solace and confidence to a child whose body does not fit the ‘ideal’.

Annie and Arjun (On Implicit Biases)

Here we have Annie and Arjun, siblings who are perplexed with the chores assigned at home to them. This book deals with the concept that parents, albeit unintentionally, might cater to gender roles and expect gendered behavior from children.

Source: Instagram

The stories, albeit simple, are highly nuanced when read with a trained eye. For example, we wanted the stories to be less moralistic and more adventurous, we wanted child protagonists because we wanted children to know that they, themselves, were enough. Our illustrations have also been carefully thought through—we have brown skinned characters, characters with hair on their bodies, non-petite children and much more.

We do not consider ourselves to be publishers or a bookstore. It is only that our first offering is fiction. We now are actively creating worksheets of our books so that children can continue to interact with our characters and also share research on our Instagram page for people to apply these findings directly in their life.

Source: Instagram

Currently, our vision lies in two directions:

First, expanding the boundaries of our current work. As mentioned, we intend to be more than just a bookstore. We are creating worksheets, materials, and activities surrounding the themes of prejudice. We review research that is currently being conducted to reduce prejudice in early childhood, interpret them, and, finally, share them in easily comprehensible ways. We want to allow a free flow of information from the research world into the real world because we notice that some findings and activities as as powerful as they are simple to do. Some are already available on our Instagram account and we are currently in the process of setting up our blog to continue the conversation.

The second thing we want to do is explore partnerships. We want to collaborate with like-minded educators to explore a co-learning experience with us. This can mean someone wanting to use our books as pedagogical material, someone who wants to convert this into arts, crafts, and drama activities.

There can be other visions or projects that we take up in future but one thing that will remain constant is TIP’s aim of disrupting gender prejudices by making them “irrelevant”.


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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.

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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.

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Read more about her campaign.

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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.

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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.

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