Written by Sanjana Jayashankar [i] and Aditya Srinivasan [ii] [i] B.A. (Research) International Relations, Shiv Nadar University [ii] B.Sc (Research) Economics, Shiv Nadar University
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
Understanding any prevailing system in the Indian context is complex owing to the country’s varied demography. Similarly, understanding gender dynamics in India’s education system is no different. The Government of India, through various schemes and laws, tries to promote education for girls and reduce the disparity that exists between the genders.
In a 2019 press release by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the emphasis was placed on incorporating gender sensitization in education.
Apart from this the press release also calls upon certain schemes and laws that aim to provide accessibility and inclusivity to all the girls within the Indian education system. Some of the laws are The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and a few schemes include Beti Bacho Beti Padhao (BBBP) to improve the Child Sex Ratio and to enable education for girls, Ujjawala - a Comprehensive Scheme for prevention of trafficking and rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (Gender Sensitization, n.d.). The subject matter of the abovementioned laws and schemes helps in displaying the kind of issues women in India face. As much as these laws try to incorporate women within the mainstream system, it is hard to think they are fully effective, given the other social and cultural constraints they face.
It is not just about the availability of justice mechanisms, it has more to do with deep-rooted belief systems and ideas that people grow up learning.
India seemingly has a dual understanding of women. On one hand, they are considered “goddesses” that require protection and respect, while on the other hand, they are discriminated against considerably. Women are conventionally perceived as a mother, sister, daughter, and on a broader scale, the "motherland". It has less to do with respect and more with the attachment of female identity to its male counterpart. The rhetoric of women needing protection, men defending their mothers, sisters, the motherland and always needing to be strong for the womenfolk pedals a dangerous sense of hierarchy and expectation which leads to assigning particular roles to men and women.
Thus, the system of patriarchy affects both men, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community (though not all on the same level) and as a result, contributes to their understanding of each other. Comprehension of the embedded system of patriarchy and its effects from a very young age is necessary to deconstruct rigid character associations to gender. Therefore, gender sensitization in primary education helps incorporate these concepts in the minds of children as they grow. This could serve a step towards significant changes in the standing of women in society.
Thus, any education system that does not encourage the questioning of unfair norms and constructs, especially gender-related constructs effectively robs children of any form of a chance to create their own identities and personality.
It is important to incorporate notions of respect and an awareness of different genders and their needs from a young age. Schools are essential to any child’s development and the ideas that are formed at this stage shape the person as they grow up (Basak, 2017). Not only does this help children understand and be empathetic towards issues faced by the other genders, but it also helps question their own supposed roles within the society.
The Indian education system has historically shied away from matters relating to sex education and gender. On the lines of imbibing manners, gender sensitization teaches respect and understanding of, primarily, oneself outside societal gender norms and other socially imposed ideas of what ‘toxic’ femininity and masculinity are. However, the different kind of social issues, like harassment, dowry, rape, acid attacks, discrimination in education and workforce, etc, that Indian women faces are the reflection of class and caste discrimination along with the hyperbolic misconception beliefs or situated in Indian traditions. Broadly, access to education for a girl child is hindered due to a) systemic issues like accessibility, availability, and quality of schools. b) problems with the content and process of the Indian education system and c) economic, social, and cultural barriers like workplace harassment and under-representation in leadership roles (Ramachandran, 2008). Additionally, according to a reductionist analysis, gender sensitization in schools has all the answers. However, this paper does not claim it to be a pan-country measure given the fact that education is a privilege not all can afford.
In recent times, the National Education Policy (NEP) has become a contentious topic for discussion. It aims to make critical changes in the education system in order to transform it. Thirty-four years ago, a new National Policy on Education (NPE1986) was introduced throughout India. The NPE1986 and policies following that (revision of the NPE, Jomtien Declaration, RTE, etc.) have contributed immensely to the improvement of general education in India (Ramchandra, 2003). Thirty years after that (four years ago), a committee was set up to bring about revolutionary changes in Indian education for it to adapt to the 21st century. The final draft, which is the NEP of 2020, has just been released, and hopefully, 2-3 years from now, it will be put to practice.
The NEP enlists many revolutionary changes that will significantly improve India's education system in terms of holistic development like making universities multidisciplinary and allowing international universities to have branches in India. However, when it comes to gender sensitization, the NEP has failed to lay adequate emphasis on the issue.
Although this policy does intend to change the educational landscape in India in a significant way, it lacks substance in all matters conventionally thought of as taboo.
The National Education Policy Draft 2019 - a draft of the recently released policy -was comprehensive, much more detailed, and has an intense focus on gender albeit not nearly enough. It had dedicated an entire subsection to the education of girls. The policy tries to improve the accessibility for girls by ‘strengthening’ the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV)- a residential schools scheme for minority girls- to ensure equal access to education for girls. The draft specifies imparting gender sensitization in schools as a part of teacher training and student curriculum and raising awareness of the legal protection for women and girls like POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act), Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, etc. It strongly emphasized the need for female role models for students to mitigate the stereotypical gendered roles ingrained in Indian society. However, with a recent incident where school kids in Delhi uploaded compromising pictures of their classmates without their consent making national headlines, a major part of the problem are the young boys who grew up with wrong role models, ideas about toxic masculinity, and their roles in society as the “dominant” gender (Ravi, 2020). While the phrase ‘gender sensitivity’ and the word ‘sensitized’ have been used multiple times in the final version of NEP 2020 but it fails to relay the significance that the issues like harassment, discrimination, and violence require (National Education Policy 2020 Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India, 2020). And the idea that boys should also be focused on as well to solve the issue was incorporated neither in the draft nor the final policy of NEP 2020. It is clear that it is not what the students are taught as a part of their curriculum about equality and the existing laws, but what they inherently believe and observe in their daily lives, that matters.
The draft also has a section on sex education (Kasturirangan et al., 2018). However, it is unclear whether sex education and legal awareness in the most recent policy come under the various sensitizations for teachers and students like the teacher training programs and curriculum changes for students. Sex education in most schools is taught as a part of the science curriculum around the end of second grade. It is not hard to envision kids, in areas with high dropout rates, who abruptly leave school and end up not learning these crucial lessons that are necessary for their well-being and development. There are many districts in India that are infamous for their high dropout rates. This single issue could cause a chain reaction of small changes in mindsets and behaviors. The issue with this medico-legal learning of laws and our bodily functions is that children do not understand its core values and if things like these are a part of some syllabus or examination for which they are tested once in their lives, the intended message does not reach them (Staff, 2019). This technical learning of terms and biological changes that happens after the kids in school actually go through said changes are of little to no use at that point in time. What will be more useful for students is the understanding of the changes in their physique and their classmates' physique is going through, compared to the learning of technical definitions? The timing of when sex education is taught is also an important issue to consider. However, the proposed changes in curriculum, as well as sensitization in the final policy, have not mentioned sex education.
Just the inclusion of gender sensitization and sex education without fully understanding the exact need for it makes the whole process of including gender sensitization in education policies seem rather tokenistic.
Along with the knowledge of legal mechanisms and medical awareness, it is critical to understand that many of India's gender issues come from a more societal understanding of gendered hierarchies. Both of these need to be incorporated together to be able to make any changes in the education system, and society at large. Given the diversity in India and emphasis on traditions, religion, and culture, it might also be required to model the content of sensitization in general based on each state. If the government is looking to make deep-rooted radical changes in the education sector, it should let go of its age-old understandings and ideologies.
Basak, S. (2017, October). (PDF) EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH GENDER SENSITIZATION,https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329541569_EMPOWERING_WOMEN_THROUGH_GENDER_SENSITIZATION
Gender Sensitization. (n.d.). https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1579514
Kasturirangan, K., Kamat, V., Alphons, K. J., Bhargava, M., Shankar Kureel, R., Kattimani, T. V., … Pratap Gupta, R. (2018). National Education Policy 2019 Draft, https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Draft_NEP_2019_EN_Revised.pdf
Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. (2020). National Education Policy 2020 Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India. https://static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf
Ramachandran, V. (2008, January). EFA Case Study India 2003:Gender Equality in Education (India) Progress in the Last Decade, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23777822_EFA_Case_Study_India_2003Gender_Equality_in_Education_India_Progress_in_the_Last_Decade
Ramchandra, V. (2003). Gender equality in education in India, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000146911
Ravi, S. (2020, May 21). Bois Locker Room, a reflection of an existing mindset. The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/bois-locker-room-a-reflectionof-an-existing-mindset/article31638044.ece
Staff, T. B. (2019, July 31). A Missed Opportunity: Addressing Sexuality Education in the Draft NEP, https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/education/a-missed-opportunity-addressing-sexuality-education-in-the-draft-nep/