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How The NEP 2020 Fails Girls And Other Marginalised Students

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.

The National Education Policy, 2020 has been much awaited. The draft NEP 2019, which serves as the base to this document, was formulated by a nine-member team, all belonging to upper castes, headed by the former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan.

National Education Policy 2020  has gender as a cross-cutting theme. It aims to establish gender equality across all levels, from primary to higher education, however, these come across as preambulatory and lack any logistical and directive methods to be undertaken.

NEP 2020 has introduced “Gender Inclusion Fund” and “Special Education Zones” to ensure education for the Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs), which include gender, socio-cultural and geographical identities and disabilities. Representational image.

Broadly, the NEP 2020 aims to create a shift from resource-based and theoretical to a more holistic educational environment. It does mention the need for gender-responsive policies, through provisions like bicycles for female students, etc.

However, in it’s intent it is not gender-reformative and doesn’t go into detail to reform gender stereotypes or acknowledge underlying patriarchal frameworks that serve as an impediment to the education of women and transgender students.

In the critique of the draft NEP released last year, Nivedita Menon along with several gender advocacy groups like SAATHII, TARSHI and others had critiqued the draft for its understanding of gender “DNEP 2019 does include gender-related themes and provisions across teaching-learning curriculum, foundational literacy and numeracy, teacher’ training, teacher’ recruitments et cetera; a closer look at the policy doesn’t provide gender as a cross-cutting concept. The policy has to recognize that gender is not just a women and girls’ issue, it also pertains to boys, men, Lesbian Gay Bisexual communities, transgender communities, those with intersex variations, and those living with disabilities”.

Gender Inclusion Fund

NEP 2020 has introduced “Gender Inclusion Fund” and “Special Education Zones” to ensure education for the Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs), which include gender, socio-cultural and geographical identities and disabilities.

“Gender Inclusion Fund” will be available to states to implement priorities determined by the central government critical for assisting female and transgender children in gaining access to education. It puts forth suggestions for conducting gender sensitisation workshops for the teachers to reflect gender neutrality in the classrooms, providing bicycles to the girl students to travel to the schools and reserving leadership position for women, to address local context-specific barriers to female and transgender students.

Language Policy

NEP 2020 emphasises on teaching in regional languages up to class 5. However, in my opinion, English is the key to employability and privilege in the current day. In such cases, private schools are the only places where English education is available.

Across the country, it is reported that male students have disproportionate access to private schools as compared to female students. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2019) reports 47.9% of boys go to private schools against 39% girls indicating that parents prefer private schools for boys and government schools for their daughters.

In November 2019, Andhra Pradesh Education Minister Adimulapu Suresh introduced English medium in all government schools as a scheme for the benefit of the poor, claiming that they were expanding the right to education to the right to an English education for all. Thus, education devoid of English will likely impede the progress of marginalised communities, especially SC and ST communities, and even within them harm female students the most.

An article in the Print highlights the role English has played since the independence to provide to be a part of the global economy “Class-based inequality will widen in India, as those who are able to afford posh English-medium education in the cities pull further ahead of talent from the hinterland.”

Menstrual Hygiene, Sex Education and Sexual Harassment

Most of the schools assume menstrual hygiene management (MHM) to be implicit in their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) strategies. The document doesn’t explicitly mention anything about menstrual hygiene or related provisions like sanitary napkins. Menstruation still continues to be an obstacle which several female students, especially from vulnerable communities face, an obstacle that hinders their education.

Accurate and adequate information on menstruation at schools can help in reducing menstruation-related illnesses and dropping out. Provisions like clean washrooms and water and sanitary napkin distributions also find only fleeting mentions.

The NEP 2020 stays very much silent on comprehensive sex education much like it’s predecessors. ‘Sex education’ has been subsumed under the component of “ethical and moral reasoning”. It is done with the intent to advance “basic health and safety training, as a service to oneself and to those around us”. It sparingly envisions equipping students to make “future judgment surrounding consent, harassment, respect for women, safety, family planning, and STD prevention”. It sparsely mentions the themes of consent, good touch/bad touch etc.

It doesn’t mention sexual abuse of female and trans students, internal complaint committees and related provisions. Sexuality is not envisioned as inherent and empowering. Healthy body image, gender-based violence are also other themes which are overlooked.

The last government-supported study on child sexual abuse in 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development had brought forth similarly worrying numbers. Of the 12,447 children and adolescents interviewed in 13 states, 53% reported to facing one or more form of sexual abuse.

In the age of ‘bios locker room’ it becomes all the more necessary to include conversations about web-based violence and cyberbullying.

The Underlying understanding of Gender 

It also fails to talk about a comprehensive puberty education program including both boys and girls with an equal focus to sensitise both boys and girls. The presumption that gender-based discrimination and gender inequality can be addressed by focusing on women and solely on women is rather widespread. Thus, most steps around ‘gender inclusivity’ are for the empowerment of female students without challenging the gendered institution of education.

The policy does not take into account the largely patriarchal setups under which schools function. For instance, 39.4% of girls aged 15-18 years drop out of school and college, according to a recent report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

However, the probable causes for this, like early marriage, selling into beggary and sexual slavery go unaddressed. Dropouts are also a result of caste-based discrimination and lack of infrastructural inclusivity for students with disability. Both these groups are mentioned superficially. Caste, patriarchy and ableism aren’t addressed as structural challenges.

It also doesn’t mention the digital divide which plagues the world in a post-pandemic time. Female students have disproportionate access to technology by virtue of familial preferences and other reasons. Digital learning curricula should necessarily include aspects of gender-responsive teaching-learning processes, gender bias within digital spaces, cyber safety, privacy and digital rights. The policy also does not challenge the existing gendering of streams – the lack of female students in STEM for instance.

Further, no gender justice is possible without addressing the underlying caste and class structures. With the scrapping of several scholarships, increasing privatization of education – one which forgoes reservation and other actions for equity – the projected leap forward in equitable education for all genders is undermined.

Gender Disparity in Higher Education

The NEP fails to recognise the hegemonic role caste and patriarchy continue to play in circumscribing access to and participation in education, acquisition and production of knowledge and opportunities for socio-economic mobility through higher education. Representational image.

The policy does not mention anything about the universalisation of higher education, only the universalisation of secondary education. All-India Survey of Higher Education published by the UGC in 2019 shows that the student enrolment at the undergraduate level has 51 percent boys and 49 percent girls.

The data reveals diploma too has a skewed gender distribution, with 66.8 percent boys and 33.2 percent girls. At the level of research streams also, male students outnumber females. In PhD courses across the country, there are 56.18 percent boys and 43.82 percent girls.

The document fleetingly mentions transgender students. The literacy rate of transgender people at 56% in alarmingly lower than the national literacy rate at 74% (Census 2011).

The document does not provide any affirmative action for transgender students and fails to address any measures to create positive environments for these students at school for instance counsellors, sensitisation workshops for peers and gender-neutral washrooms.

It fails to address schools as a place of violence for transgender* students and makes no attempt to recognize this group for any actions like reservation, scholarship etc. Policies for Intersex students find no mention in the document. The LGBTQ+ community is alienated as well.

Looking forward

The NEP 2020 says that the central and state governments will strive to increase expenditure on the education sector to reach six percent of the GDP. This has been the stated goal since the 1960s since the Kothari Commission’s report, but is yet to be achieved.

The policy document talks about starting a gender sensitisation program for teachers, which will focus on how to teach students with disabilities as well. It also mentions hiring female teachers, and elucidates on the need for ‘female role models’. However, to view it from a gendered lens devoid of the caste and class intersections in education would be a one-sided picture.

The lack of mention of affirmative actions is detrimental to Bahujan students. Thus, female students from these groups will also face the brunt due to caste and class oppression. Under the directives of the NEP 2020, any programmes need to not only empower vulnerable students but also challenge the institutional structures that create this vulnerability.

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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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