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Explained: 4 Simple Ways How A Classroom Can Be Made Gender Sensitive

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This is the second article in the user series by Jhatkaa on YKA called ‘Gender in the Classroom’, where we aim to have conversations that push for an equal and consensual classroom. You can read the rest of the articles here

Gender sensitisation refers to the crucial process of educating and raising awareness about systemic inequities for marginalised genders. Growing up in Indian households, we are made to imbibe gender-based stereotypes. Educational institutions play an essential role in building a cohort of young individuals who move forward and play important roles in administrative policies. Schools are a starting point for children to learn about gender sensitisation.

During the formative years of their lives, institutions like schools and colleges must make an active attempt to educate them about issues surrounding gender-based stereotypes and prejudices. Hence, gender sensitisation must be introduced when young individuals are growing and learning. With this, they would be able to form positive ideologies and create positive change moving forward.

A girl and professor sitting and girl says ways to make classroom gender sensitive
Schools are a starting point for children to learn about gender sensitisation. Photo: Youth Ki Awaaz

How Can Classrooms Be Made More Gender-Sensitive?

Interventions such as making workshops and training programs a necessity within classrooms can help create a safe space for gender sensitisation practices to take place in.

A gender-neutral approach to curriculum is also an important way to make classrooms more gender-sensitive. Instead of focusing on a curriculum specifically built for particular genders, for example, home science being delegated to women and mathematics to men, a wholesome approach to institutional curriculum can be a progressive way forward. 

Another example of a heavily gendered curriculum is how sports are given more preference for colleges and schools that are either co-education or for boys only than for institutes for girls only. This has long-lasting effects on how the Indian society perceives sports as a “masculine” field, not to be fully utilised by those who are not cis-men. For example, men’s cricket is celebrated while women’s cricket is left behind as an afterthought. 

Comprehensive sexuality education, wherein students are taught about their sexual rights is essential as well. The archaic merging of sex education with biology is essentialist and exclusionary to trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education that covers aspects of pleasure, safe sex, abortion practices, consent, and the different types of sexual relationships is necessary to create a diverse and gender-sensitive classroom. Moreover, including reproductive health rights within the curriculum of sex education in colleges and schools is important to teach students about their rights when accessing reproductive healthcare. This is essential in terms of finding support during sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and examinations like pap smears. 

 

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Workshops that aim to arm students and faculty members with proper legal knowledge around PoSH laws is a critical way to address cases of sexual harassment within college campuses. Despite legal mandates, a lack of awareness about grievance mechanisms can inhibit students’ access to redressal of certain crucial issues. A complainant may also find it challenging to approach administrations with their complaints.

This can happen due to a lack of support systems and an inability to understand whom to approach. Toolkits and workshops around PoSH awareness are an important way to increase gender sensitisation and create safety nets like GSCs or Queer Collectives. These can offer a support system to students in a world that is biased against them.

A girl in a classroom that speaks for gender sensitisation
With a holistic approach to building gender-sensitive classrooms, the unsafe practices that put marginalised genders at risk can be curbed. Representational image.

Sensitising teaching faculty about the importance of using gender-neutral language is also incredibly important.

Gender sensitising modules can help educate faculty members about how using wrong pronouns and deadnames for queer students in their classrooms can trigger gender dysphoria to a considerable extent due to faculty members. A gender-neutral approach to addressing students and being mindful of pronouns and names are important to make classrooms more gender-sensitive.

It is also important to introduce mandatory training manuals as well as sessions for teaching faculty. 

 

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For example, the recent discourse around an NCERT manual, “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, would be an essential way to create awareness and safer college and school grounds for non-binary students. However, intrusive and irrelevant questions around a board member’s ethics and morals, who was part of creating this manual, led to the manual being scrapped.

 

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Internet trolls were raising the questions. This shows how vital gender sensitisation is within classrooms and is an important indicator of our society’s strong hesitation towards creating a welcoming space for marginalised genders. This also shows how the cycle of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and prejudices against marginalised genders amounts to violence on social media and offline.

Conclusion

Though various administrative bodies have implemented policies for marginalised genders, a lack of understanding of the same can impact access to redressal mechanisms.

Policies like the formation of Gender Sensitising Committees or mandatory ICCs within colleges are an important step but fail to achieve the desired result in making marginalised genders feel safe within college campuses. Scrapping of Ordinance of 15(D) also made the legal tools inaccessible to non-binary students as it removed the gender-neutral approach for the ICC. 

 

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Building proper support systems that can encourage gender sensitisation within classrooms and interventions from various organisations is important to create safer and more comfortable college campuses for marginalised genders. The harmful prejudicial attitudes that households and educational institutions perpetuate can be stopped with the help of a gender-sensitive approach to curriculum, programmes and workshops.

With a holistic approach to building gender-sensitive classrooms, the unsafe practices that put marginalised genders at risk can be curbed. Such an approach can also help students and faculty trace the origins of regressive beliefs, and understand the casteist and classist undertones to them. Schools and higher educational institutions are an essential mechanism to break archaic moulds of gender biases and pave the way for a more progressive future for children who will grow up to implement and close gaps in policies for all marginalised communities.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.”

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        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.

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