Breaking the gender barrier: Not as tough as we assume

Last Updated : 12 August 2020, 15:20 IST

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I have been associated with a school for more than three years now. A few months ago, we had members from a sister unit come and enquire why the school had asked female students to practice sports. This, they added, would not go down well with the students’ families. Teachers discussed the issue and then did what many a time works well in such situations – abstain from reacting.

One of the teachers had encouraged students to practice kabaddi at the ground adjacent to the school - before and after school hours. Kabaddi practice brought in smiles, energy and excitement. Their families would surely be aware for this went on for more than a couple of months. On the sports day, the level of kabaddi was notches higher vis-a-vis the previous year!

This was no exception.

More than a year ago, at a meeting where we had invited mothers of female students, I had landed up with my first major surprise on this front. The school had then undertaken a fresh initiative. This warranted the female students to attend sessions after school hours; in other words, reach home late. Based on what I had been advised I had geared up for a difficult conversation. However, the foreboding was uncalled for. Majority of the mothers were vocal. They harboured no doubts. They wanted their daughters to be able to do what they had missed out on.

Not long after this incident, some teachers sat to discuss the school uniform. Most of the students in our school hail from financially underprivileged families and the school provides uniform. The school contemplated the shift from a conventional uniform to one that would consist of colourful track-pant and t-shirt. This would be comfortable to use, get less dirty, easy to maintain, and also be gender-neutral. Some teachers wondered if the proposed uniform was suitable given the socio-cultural milieu of the village and whether the female students (and their parents) would accept it in the first place. Not only did the parents appreciate the new uniform at the onset but, over the period, the students (male and female) have worn it with élan.

Cricket is a preferred sport at the school. Male and female students usually play cricket together. All the roles are played by all the players - they plan, cheer, celebrate, disagree and have loud arguments together as the play. My only role here has been that of a spectator from behind the window. And there is something very heartening about the manner in which they play together.

Girls are as much a part of fun and chaos as the boys. And, the girls and their parents are way more welcoming of the changes than we give them credit for. Chances that our school is not an exception are fairly high.

The mismatch between the actions (and reactions) of the girls and their parents vis-a-vis our expectations from them and understanding of the scenario is stark. It makes one wonder if the gap has always existed? And why?

Or the world has already changed and we are unaware? Blissfully - or otherwise - caught in a time warp.

(This article is based on experiences at a peri-urban school in Uttar Pradesh)

Published 12 August 2020, 14:51 IST

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