Schools, a gender sensitized sanctum


 A safe and fair world for women can start with gender sensitization in schools, writes Mathew C Ninan

Attitudes and habits are formed very early in one’s life. The two major factors that influence children’s development are the home and the school environments. What they learn in their most impressionable childhood years will stay with them all through their lives.

While homes are varied and difficult to streamline, it’s possible to bring about a qualitative change in our schools, with considerable effort and good planning. Gender sensitization is a matter of crucial importance in the changing milieu of our society.

The recent Delhi episode has shaken the collective conscience of our nation. That is the only saving grace in the otherwise sad and sordid inhuman turn of events. The media coverage was unprecedented and that resulted in the massive response from every nook and cranny of the country.

In the wake of this, reports started appearing in the media about atrocities on women, girls, and even children from across the country on a daily basis. This shows how such aberrations have been happening, but were not reported as they were not ‘news-worthy’. 

The malaise is deep, and needs determined and well-planned responses. As a nation we take pride in our heritage and history, our hallowed tradition of respecting and even revering womanhood. Where have we lost all of this? How come we are slipping into the morass of depravity and total lack of humanity and civilization? As a society we need to wake up to this unwholesome reality. Schools have a very significant role to play in this situation. In fact schools are on vantage ground here.  They have young children in their care. They are innocent, and most amenable to discipline and good learning. However, schools have to take a whole new approach to the issue, with all seriousness and with a sense of urgency.  A few ideas may be considered.
* As most schools are co-educational institutions, they should ensure that both boys and girls enjoy equal status in all aspects of the school. There should not be any discrimination between them when assigning duties and positions. The practice of giving prime position to boys and a secondary position to girls should be eliminated from the school. Gender equality must be seen in practice in all respects in the school.
* The practice of having the names of boys first in the class attendance register followed by girls should be discontinued. This sends out a clear message that girls matter, they matter as much, if not more than boys.
It is a symbolic act with a good message.
* Assigning certain jobs like sweeping and cleaning to girls should be stopped in schools. Any work that is assigned must be without any such discrimination or stereotyping. All work is honourable and therefore good enough for both boys and girls equally.
* Gender discrimination happens mostly in the language used by teachers. They should be careful not to cast aspersions on girls or women in the course of their transactions in the school. Respect is due to all, irrespective of gender. This must be the norm in the whole school. 
* The Supreme Court directive that every school should have a committee headed by a lady teacher to look into complaints of sexual harassment must be made mandatory and operative. Children should also be made aware of their rights and assured that they will be protected against any discrimination for complaining against any one. Counsellors should address this issue effectively in schools.
* Fear of severe punishment can act as a deterrent in schools, and it also will give the children an awareness that any offence aimed at girls/women is not acceptable and is most despicable.
* Schools should have slogans and posters displayed in prominent locations to indicate how they care for the welfare of all children. It could be in terms of physical handicap, or backwardness in studies, or even based on gender. 
* Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) initiated by CBSE is not being pursued with the same enthusiasm with which it started. Though there have been some random negative reaction to this, dubbing it as ‘sex education’, the entire programme was designed so scientifically and logically that it can still be revived for the benefit of our society. It will be a very effective instrument in creating awareness in our young children about human sexuality and how to handle it responsibly.
* Self-defence training is another important step schools have to take in the present situation. Alongside Physical Education, we should introduce an effective training programme in self-defence for children, especially for girls, so they will be more confident and capable of defending themselves in most situations.
* Much depends on adults and the role model that they portray in front of the children. If parents and teachers, in fact all elders whom they come in contact with, respect women, children will grow up in an atmosphere of mutual regard and respect. Courtesies and good manners learnt when in school will never be forgotten.

A society of well-groomed children with deep convictions about human rights will never violate them. This can ensure a safe and secure society for our future generations, more particularly for the female gender. We need to usher in a society that is devoid of prejudices, injustices, and maltreatment against a human being, irrespective of his/her gender. We can call ourselves a civilized society only when we reach that stage.

Gandhiji had said, “India will attain full freedom on the day women can walk safely at night.” If schools begin to imbibe such a conducive atmosphere, that day shall not be far off.

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