TW: Mentions of assault, rape, cyberbullying.
“These students don’t need to know anything about this [sexual health] until they are married, it is inappropriate.” This was said to me by the principal of a Delhi-based English medium private school during a workshop with female students in grade 9 about sexual well-being and reproductive rights.
Burying conversations, policing female students, and the lack of sensitisation training provided to teachers is a common occurrence in schools across Delhi and beyond. When a Delhi girl exposed a ‘bois locker room‘ group chat and its participants on Instagram late last night, social media blew up with conversations about how girls are sexually exploited by sharing private images of them without their consent among third parties and threatening comments that go to the extent of rape threats. While this incident is shocking and despicable, it is certainly not new.
I have, firsthand, witnessed groups of boys as young as 14-years of age in schools participating in such activities in varying degrees. Having a girl’s private photos was, and is, considered a kind of achievement for them to boast about, and share among their friends who are just as complicit. When I first witnessed this happen at my own school, I was in ninth grade myself and not one boy, nor teacher stood up for all the girl students who were silently going through this traumatic experience. It was an open secret that no one had the courage to call out. Perhaps out of fear, shame, or simply because they themselves allowed such activities to take place.
However, despite multiple calls to action at an individual level calling for introspection, courage, empathy, and support, I am yet to see an important stakeholder take the responsibility of changing such a mindset: schools.
The ‘Bois Locker Room‘ incident is one case in the hundreds that take place in each school all the time. Schools have a duty to acknowledge that such atrocious activities sometimes begin in their own backyard and they must step forward to protect the youth that they play such an important role in shaping.
Schools play a role in normalising this behaviour by either playing an active role in subduing it, humiliating students publicly for expression or dissent, or simply sweeping them under the rug. It is time to own up to our role in allowing this to happen.
This is not a one-time conversation but one that needs to be encouraged, supported, and imbibed at all levels starting from the hub of all educational activity. After working with and being a part of a number of schools and organisations, here are a few simple actionable steps that schools can take to create a safe learning environment to allow their students to thrive by making them responsible and empowered.
For the lack of a better phrase, stop half ass-ing your responsibility to your students by implementing a program that is ineffective, impractical, non-inclusive, and is only meant for you to earn brownie points.
Finally, I encourage schools to take the first step, initiate the conversation. You are responsible for creating the space required for these conversations to be brought to the right authorities. You are the ones who set an example for the hundreds, if not thousands, of students you impact every day with the way you handle situations that impinge on their long-term mental health and well-being.