This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Saanjh Shekhar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Unschooling Patriarchy: Does Gender Bias Affect India’s Classrooms?

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

A classroom is a space for learning, but apart from learning math, physics, art, do we also learn something else? Yes. We learn patriarchy. As Judith Butler, the famous writer of ‘Gender Trouble’ has said that masculine and feminine is not something fixed, it’s socially constructed. Through gender-based stereotyping, problematic syllabi, and implicit norms, we imbibe gender.

It’s safe for me to say that the institution of patriarchy is thriving today because of our faulty educational institutions. In this article, I will be exploring the three P’s of Patriarchy: Privilege, Power, and Purity and how we end up learning them in the school itself.

Gender Bender? – Stereotypes And Privileges In Classroom Settings

“Good morning, boys and girls” begins a teacher as soon as they enter an eight-thirty morning class. What is wrong with this statement you? Well, it is heteronormative. Since school is a foundational space, where you learn the most, it’s important our teachers be sensitive to the existence of different genders.

Image only for representation. (Photo: akshayapatra/

When a teacher calls on the boys of their class to move furniture and a girl to prepare a dance for an assembly, that’s where stereotyping starts. It’s that simple. This minor detail is important because it gives us an idea of how cognitive structures develop. Earlier in school, I would be forced to think that boys are stronger than girls in the physical sense because of this.

That’s not all. Teachers often use gender as an important label to differentiate between and organise students. An implicit stratification takes place in classrooms when boys are told to sit with girls and vice versa as a punishment. It is taken for granted that boys don’t want to befriend girls and vice versa. This creates an implicit division which then leads to the formation of homogenous groups. Having limited interaction with the other gender, we can’t defeat the stereotypes given to us by the world. We also lose out on understanding appropriate modes of behaviour (by appropriate I mean, making sure you don’t make someone uncomfortable).

Implicit To Explicit Patriarchy: From Privilege To Power

Boys often end up commanding power in society as a result of what happens in educational institutes. Firstly, the example of how it’s assumed that a male will be physically stronger than a female ends up reinforcing the idea amongst males that they have the edge over my female counterparts and can exercise dominion over them.

Secondly, since girls aren’t allowed to stay back in school for functions or practices because a parent is more likely to allow a boy to come back late than a female. This takes away the myriads of opportunities they might have had if they were allowed to stay a little later at school, their office etc. Power then is accumulated because of these opportunities.

Thus, who is more likely to go for competitions, get better posts, participate in functions, get a pay raise? Men. Spaces like the office, schools, public transport are made unsafe for women and girls  on account of sexual harassment. Fathers and brothers tell the girls that it’s risky to stay there, and then these spaces and opportunities get taken over by men themselves. Hence, the cycle of patriarchy rides on.

Another arena where gender differentiation takes place is the PT period or even the lunch break. It’s common to see girls flocking to the canteen, while the playground is a space dominated by boys. This happens because young women are exposed to “ideal” beauty standards from a very young age. The idea of “feminine beauty” dissociates itself from all things “masculine”. They are told to cut your hair short, or hang around in the sun for too long is ugly and unladylike. Thus they resort to staying in during breaks conforming to the ideal standards laid out for them. The ideas of femininity are used to control girls from doing things that are considered “masculine”, disabling them from achieving power.

Men, too, are disallowed to partake in anything outside of “masculinity”. Applying nail paint, growing out their hair over a certain length, or even participating in the Home management club is looked down upon by their peers. Boys are often told to “man-up” when they complain about bullying to their teachers.

Learning Patriarchy Through Textbooks (Or The Lack Of Them)

In a country like India, where textbooks occupy a central place in classrooms, we must write them more inclusively and sensitively.

A recent study by the American Economics Association found out that women are underrepresented in economics textbooks. Three-quarters of the people mentioned in the textbooks are males: real and imagined. It’s also important to notice that when these textbooks do end up mentioning women, they are usually passive and are doing secondary tasks unrelated to economics, while men perform the more active part. Often since women don’t find models in these textbooks, they are uninspired to get into subjects which are seen as male-dominated.

Image for representation only. Source: TESS India/Flickr

Many times, the language used in these textbooks is also sexist. The problem with sexist language is that if sexism is a disease, sexist language is both its symptom and the cause of the disease. This kind of language includes words that are exclusionary to females. You automatically associate the word chairman to a male head, despite the fact that chairmen can also be women. Using “man” to mean people causes a lot of confusion and ambiguity.

Sex education is also absent as a proper course in all schools in India. Sex ed will be a monumental step towards gender equality since it will enable people to dispel notions of purity with regards to menstruation, virginity and sexual intercourse.

Unlearning Gender: NEP And Civil Society’s Role

The National Education Policy was commended by many on the front of gender equality. Its recommendations included setting up a gender inclusion fund to provide quality education to girls. It aimed to attain a hundred percent participation of girls and close gender gaps for students in higher education. The draft policy also stated that “changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion; inculcating girls’ capacity for leadership to help develop current and future role models, and improving dialogue with civil society to exchange best practices and lessons learned”.

Schools are imperative contexts for socialization; we learn our attitudes and behaviors in the school itself. Unfortunately, teachers receive very little training in firstly recognizing their own unconscious biases and secondly in combating them. Despite the suggestions of the NEP, we still have a long way to go. We need massive efforts from civil society and organizations like Pravah and Unlearn that work on gender to help make more inclusive curricula, train teachers, and do workshops with students.

Going from a co-ed school to an all-girls college, I had to unlearn a few things myself. LSR (Lady Shri Ram College) was a totally different egalitarian space. “Come on girls, let’s pick up that sofa,” said my sociology teacher while we were gearing up for a function, and at that moment, I had power, a kind of power I had never known before.

You must be to comment.

More from Saanjh Shekhar

Similar Posts

By Umer Wani


By Lakshit Kale

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below