The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gender games start with toys
- Barbies for girls, guns for boys in school

New Delhi, Nov. 10: Guns for boys and Barbie dolls for girls — toys given to children in a typical middle-class play school are split according to gender. The textbooks are no different, showing men going to office or working in the fields and women cooking or washing.

A UN report on the status of education shows that the stereotypes are not specific to India. All over the world, teachers tend to create a gender divide in the classroom.

“Teaching materials tend to promote gender-specific roles. For instance, portraying male characters as powerful and active and female characters as weak, sweet, frightened and needy,” says the 2007 Education for All report authored by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organisation (Unesco).

Educationists stress that nurturing of gender stereotypes begins early in life — at home and in school. “Game playing can often conform to stereotypes with boys playing with blocks and girls taken to the housekeeping corner,” the Unesco report says.

Gender disparities like these later push girls out of school, the report adds, highlighting the unequal access to education and the rising dropout rate among girls in primary and secondary schools.

The trend is the same across India and the rest of the developing world. “Girls have less access to active toys and playground space. Teachers tend to call more on male volunteers. They are also most likely to listen to and respond to boys, use more of their ideas in classroom discussions, ask boys more questions and give them more individual instruction, acknowledgement, praise and encouragement,” says Unesco.

This is not all. The view that “boys will be boys” pervades classrooms, with boys and girls punished for different kinds of misconduct. “Teachers accept aggression by boys but not by girls. In all such ways, stereotypical attitudes and behaviour are inculcated,” the report points out.

Often, the gender divide begins at home. Rohit, a young marketing executive, recalls: “One of my relatives presented me with a gun.” How did it make him feel' “The gun made a lot of noise and made me feel good. Perhaps macho.” (Pictures above show a girl posing like a Barbie doll and a boy playing with a toy gun)

Nisha, an employee in a private company, says: “I have never thought of it as a gender divide. But while choosing gifts, I am more likely to give my niece a book or clothes and my nephew game CDs.”

But on the other side are parents like Rashmi who says she and her husband consciously encourage their son to play with dolls and toy utensils. “The result was fantastic. My son and my nephew would always be cooking in toy utensils,” says Rashmi.

The Unesco report has expressed serious concern over the failure to stem dropouts, particularly among girls. The discrimination is lowest at the pre-primary level and increases from Class V, it says. “Gender discrimination goes up at the middle level and then peaks at the secondary level.”

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