This is the first 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 gender justice and raising awareness about systemic inequities for marginalised genders. Growing up in Indian households, we are made to imbibe gender-based stereotypes.
These stereotypes can range from restricting those assigned females at birth to the domestic sphere, to expecting or allowing only men to help the patriarch of the family with financial issues. Many aspects of life like moral policing for clothing, arranged marriages, participating in the public sphere, and more are also deeply intertwined with the casteist notion of “purity” and “pollution”.
Hence, while discussing gender sensitisation it is also important to acknowledge the hierarchical obstacles of caste and class.
Households also reinforce gender-based stereotypes regarding clothing, hair colour and even how a person decides to walk or talk. For example, some behaviours are deemed too feminine for those who are assigned male at birth and some behaviours are too masculine for those who are assigned female at birth. There is very little conversation around how gender is a socially constructed concept that individuals can ‘transgress’.
Moreover, there is also the compulsive need to adhere to either of the two binaries when it comes to gender expression, leaving very little space for non-binary individuals to feel comfortable at their homes or at their educational institutes, where the latter reinforces what is learnt at home. Furthermore, these also invalidate transgender and non-binary identities and trigger gender dysphoria for many individuals.
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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.
Marginalised genders face a lot of challenges growing up within prejudicial households and institutes. The prejudice is made doubly aggressive for those belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes. It is also tied up with wealth privilege. While talking about gender sensitisation, it is important to address the intersectionality that exists within each of these challenges as well as how they can be addressed by organisations or administrations.
Despite existing legal mandates, schools and colleges do not always prioritise student safety. This is especially true of campuses that do not hold regular gender sensitisation training. Moreover, many colleges do not have a proper committee that deals with cases of sexual harassment within colleges. This committee is known as the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
According to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, an educational institute must set up the ICC adhering to its guidelines to create an unbiased redressal mechanism. The same is true for schools that are careless when it comes to informing students about their rights when it comes to the violation of consent.
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However, while many universities have an ICC on paper, the students are unaware of its functioning and do not know how to approach them. This is where Gender Sensitisation Committees (GSC) come into place. GSCs are supposed to help students in accessing legal aid. However, complex jargon becomes a barrier, and the knowledge of legal discourse also becomes inaccessible to many people.
Even though the committees can make an active attempt to educate students within the classroom about redressal mechanisms and legal knowledge, the complicated language through which the rights of students are laid out creates difficulty in understanding and seeking out legal aid.
College campuses are often extremely oppressive for marginalised genders. Moreover, there also exist systemic obstacles in the path of creating a gender-sensitive classroom. For example, while many colleges have now started giving importance to Women’s Development Cells, the presence of Queer Collectives in colleges is still very meagre. Few colleges like Miranda House have been able to provide administrative support to the queer collective on campus.
However, inherent homophobia and a lack of understanding of gender-based issues lead to marginalised genders still feeling isolated and unsafe within their college campuses. For example, for non-binary or transgender individuals, the unavailability of gender-neutral washrooms can trigger gender dysphoria and risk their safety.
Moreover, those who identify as trans or non-binary, or whose gender expression does not conform with societal expectations, are also faced with verbal, emotional and physical bullying. A lack of understanding of queer identities has long term impacts that pose a considerable threat to life for queer people. Conversion therapies where queer folks are forced to go through brutalities is one example where a lack of gender sensitisation amounts to extreme violence.
There are also numerous cases of regressive attitudes leading up to harmful and collective displays of misogyny.
For example, the V Tree Puja at Hindu College, where students worship a Bollywood celebrity with the hope that it would help them lose their virginity, could be a direct repercussion of a lack of gender sensitisation. Celebrating virginity as something sacred and commodifying women’s sexualities is something we are all taught to internalise. A harmful celebration such as the V Tree Puja can also potentially translate into abusive behaviour during college fests.
The incident that took place at Gargi College in 2020 is a glaring example of the same, where a group of men gatecrashed the campus and assaulted women during the college’s cultural fest – Reverie. A survey conducted by the National Students’ Union of India also said that one in four students of marginalised genders had faced sexual harassment within Delhi University.
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Furthermore, cases of sexual harassment in the colleges of Delhi University also follow a long drawn and complicated process of redressal due to a lack of understanding and awareness of the PoSH law.
Gender sensitisation, if included within the curriculum, provides a sense of security to marginalised genders. A gender-sensitive classroom would be able to educate students within the campus and enable faculty about important issues about gender discourse.
A gender sensitisation training session can help students understand what kind of behaviours are harmful to marginalised genders. The training sessions can also help students understand what microaggressions are. This is especially true of students brought up in an environment where gender-based stereotypes have formulated most of their lives. Hence, gender sensitisation training can help them unlearn regressive prejudices and provide a meaningful transition to develop into more responsible students and peers.
Moreover, it is also essential to have a continuous discourse regarding establishing boundaries and understanding consent.
Gender sensitisation committees can provide a two-pronged approach wherein dominant genders are taught to respect consent and boundaries while marginalised genders are taught about their rights regarding safe practices. For example, while marginalised genders must understand their rights and assert firm boundaries, it is equally vital for dominant genders to know that they are very much a part of the process that can make college campuses a safer space.
Dominant genders must learn the importance of respecting consent in social and private situations and learn the importance of being active bystanders. Gender sensitisation practices can also help students understand who to approach in case their consent is violated.
Training manuals and workshops also streamline processes while educating individuals about sensitive topics. For example, a workshop on learning about the importance of the POSH Law will empower students to reach out to their campus ICC in any case of need. Necessary legal knowledge and constitutional rights that are otherwise not easily accessible can also be introduced in a simplified manner.