Here’s How The Draft NEP Has Gone Wrong In Its Reading of Gender Discrimination

The draft National Education Policy (NEP), 2019, embodies a reformative spirit with equity and accessibility at the core of its founding goals but simultaneously belies a misreading of gender relations and socialisation practices. The Draft NEP lists out a number of policy measures to ensure and promote increased participation of girl children, from primary to higher levels of education through financial aid, and other social welfare schemes. While focusing on making education accessible, the draft hardly works on fostering a change in the social interactions or the environment, where the learning takes place in order to make education more inclusive.

Before the article lists out some fundamental problems of the Draft NEP 2019, it is important to understand gender as a social concept. Much to the dislike of ‘modern pundits’ on the internet, gender still operates more in terms of what we are expected to do socially and culturally than what we have beneath our clothes. One’s gender role/identity is always understood in relation to another, i.e., “I am more manly than him/her/them,” “I am the man, I am not supposed to cook for the family,” and so on. This is how stereotypic tropes get embedded as a defining part of our identities in our growing years and furthermore, our education system does nothing to address it at any level.

This leads us to the miscarriages in the Draft National Education Policy 2019.

A Short-Sighted Policy

Social obstacles that get in the way of the education of girl children can’t be dealt with in terms of stop-gap measures like, immediate financial incentive or infrastructural accessibility alone. It requires an overhaul in terms of change of mindset. The draft policy, like its predecessors, reiterates increasing access to education for girls, ensuring essential infrastructure and safety, but completely misses out on systemically and systematically creating gender-sensitive and gender-equal mindsets in boys, who need to be an equal stakeholder in the idea of gender equality.

The fact that boys too grow up with a gendered identity, rooted in notions of masculinity and superiority over other genders, seems to have been ignored, if not negated, in the draft NEP 2019. Boys and men have been excluded from the narrative on gender equality and inclusive education by the draft. The question that arises here is, how do we expect the problem of gender inequality to be solved by solely looking at girls?

Non-Gender Reformative

The draft mandates schools and colleges to conduct gender-sensitisation sessions, but hardly addresses the root cause of gender stereotypes. The document has no mention of undoing the constant socialisation, which young boys and girls acquire to become masculine or feminine respectively. It has also been noted how here, “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) that has been put in place for sexual offenses against children, not limited to any particular gender, has been interpreted as legal protection for girls and women.”

Even in the section which deals with sex education, the learning limits itself to basic anatomical wellbeing and hygiene practices, without including any training on the concepts of ‘consent’, ‘good touch/bad touch,’ and so on, at any level.

Non-Gender Inclusive

The draft deals with gender differences merely at an anatomical or physical level. It vaguely speaks of including transgender children in school without elaborating on the necessary steps to be taken to ensure the retention of transgender students. This would include the sensitisation to be provided to educators to deal with their special needs, to ensure their safety from a range of hate crimes to discrimination. “The creation of a gender-inclusion fund is expected to build the capacity to provide quality and equitable education to all girls.” This makes it inconsistent with its own label by excluding boys and transgender students, who experience different types of depravities.

For representation only

The draft NEP entails a range of logical mishaps, like lack of gender-neutrality in the language of the document, inconspicuously remaining silent on the implementation and timeline of a range of programs, and equating gender issues as mainly women’s issues. It is important to adopt reformatory provisions in the education policy to make it a driving tool for social change and development.

The draft National Education Policy 2019 is going to decide how our education system will look for the next two decades. It is, therefore, very important for everyone to read the draft and send their inputs to the government for consideration.

You can access the draft 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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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