A school has sought the help of a feminist organisation to address issues of gender stereotyping and elements of inequality in its classrooms or beyond.
Calcutta International School has collaborated with Swayam, which has been working to advance women’s rights, to conduct sessions with groups of students from all classes.
Across institutions, students have a tendency to make gendered comments such as “girls are weaker” and “this is how girls should be”. The most common of all is “boys cannot cry”.
Comments like this fuel patriarchy, inequality and discrimination.
But even boys feel discriminated against when teachers favour girls more or compare their performance with girls.
The idea is to stop “gender stereotyping” and break away from stereotypes.
“We have started this from our belief in equality, acceptance, cultural and social diversity. We get a student body coming from various backgrounds and this kind of acceptance might not be in the background of every student,” said Tina Servaia, principal, senior school, Calcutta International School.
“We find that children get influenced by peers easily. In a class, if some students are chauvinist, others get influenced by chauvinism. Similarly, if there are students who are egalitarian, others get influenced by such ideas,” Servaia
The school has divided children into groups of 10. The students in each group have different outlooks and approaches. The resource person from Swayam speaks to each of them.
Swayam, which has been working to advance women’s rights and fighting inequality and violence against women and girls for the last 28 years, feels it is important to start at an early age.
“We want children to understand appropriateness of behaviour for both girls and boys, to create healthy school spaces where personal spaces are respected and boundaries are not crossed,” said Amrita Dasgupta, director, Swayam.
“There should be spaces where inequality can be addressed in a school set-up, despite the fact that students are from diverse backgrounds. The idea is to teach children and young people not to use their differences and privileges to show power or to put anyone down.”
Dasgupta said it is important for children to understand what “consent” and “boundaries” are from an early age.
“It is not formally taught anywhere and most adults often don’t know how to have a conversation about consent and boundaries. The education has to be on how not to step into anyone else’s boundary and how not to let anyone step into your boundary. While children have to be taught how to receive a ‘no’, they also have to be taught how to say ‘no’. It is about creating an environment where a ‘no’ is accepted with respect,” Dasgupta said.