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If Textbooks And Teachers Are Sexist, How Will Students Learn About Equality?

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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.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world,” said Malala Yousufzai.

Gender stereotypes is no more an alien term. It prevails in almost every sphere of our life. Gender stereotypes can described as over-generalised beliefs about what men and women are like, and what traits and behaviours are expected of them, or considered appropriate.

Before our little ones are even born, these stereotypes are there in the form of gifts when one announces the pregnancy. When kids are born, the gender coding continues with the language that we use, such as: boys are tough and girls are feeble.

As children there is no limit to what we believe we can become. But, as girls and boys, we are steered in different directions growing up. This happens because of what we call gender stereotypes, traditional ideas about boys and girls can or should do.

They may not always obvious, but stereotypes are everywhere. These preconceived notions start from our birth and then influence us when we go to school, and choose our subjects or activities in the school.

For instance, girls are expected to be good at arts and humanities and boys are led towards Mathematics and Science.

Publishers should be careful to include sociologically and psychologically sensitive content in textbooks. Representational image.

When we encounter the same stereotypes again and again, they begin to feel natural and shape our preferences as well as career paths. We can take the example of the teaching and nursing professions. They are generally seen as women’s professions.

It has been perceived that students and patients can connect with them better. Such stereotypical notions can’t be eradicated from society immediately, but can be gradually corrected. If we want to bring positive change in the society then changing curriculum should be the first step.

Authors and publishers should be careful to include sociologically and psychologically sensitive content in textbooks.

Textbook In Rajasthan Reasserts Male Superiority

But recently the deep-rooted gender bias in our society has further been propagated by the revised school textbook in Rajasthan. Ample instances hinting male superiority have been found in English and Hindi textbooks.

In the Hindi textbook of class third, a chapter titled “games”, has three pictures showing only boys playing games, indicating that games are only meant for boys.

In most of the chapters, women have been shown doing kitchen stuff only, says a report prepared by group of academicians who have studied the revised textbooks.

Textbook In Bengaluru Thinks Women Can’t Lead

A similar incident also happened in Bengaluru, where an NCERT (the National Council of Educational Research and Training) textbook pertaining to the 5th standard contained a drawing depicting five men engaged in the work of house construction.

The women shown on the site were doing the work of carrying bricks and supporting the men, while the men were leading the work.

The drawing is but an example of stereotyping and gender bias in India, especially in the primary school textbooks of the NCERT.

Although we can’t deny the fact that whatever was shown in the book is the harsh reality prevailing in our society, the role of the books should be the eradication of society’s stereotypes, rather than portraying the typical images.

Syrian & Nigerian Textbooks Reflect Stereotypes

In a study conducted in developing, Muslim countries, textbooks in Syria were found to portray males as engaging with a bustling world, while women were in the background, in servitude, often degraded and victimised.

Similarly, in Nigeria an analysis of 15 of the most frequently taught novels from English literature textbooks found that all the stories were male-centered. Out of 273 characters, only 61 were female.

What Can We Do About It?

Teachers have the enormous power to promote gender equality by modelling positive behaviour in the classroom.

Teachers often lose sight of the fact that if they have 40 students in the classroom, they are working with 40 individuals. Each one of them is unique, with their own potential and talent. However, instead of seeing diversity many teachers often see 20 males and 20 females.

When teachers think of children only in terms of gender, they start to make all sorts of assumptions about them about what they like and even what they should be doing when they are in school.

Educational institutions can end up reinforcing gender stereotypes when not extremely careful. Representational image.

Majority of the teachers practice gender stereotypes, unintentionally, in the classroom. Therefore, they should be very careful about the language and signs they are using in the classroom.

We all should encourage both the genders to recognise that their adult life will probably include work, parenting and household chores.

We should make sure that our expectations should be the same for both male, female and other students.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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