Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Training the teachers to build gender inclusive classrooms in Naoshera, Jammu

The last and the most crucial session of the two day gender training program with the teachers of rural government school, Noashera had one single objective – to give them a language, to equip them with the tools with which they can co-create safe and gender inclusive class rooms for the students.
The session began with a small video where it shows how teacher leaves the hierarchical status and builds a classroom where voice of each student is heard, the class which was termed rowdy becomes a support system for one another, motivating each other to push their limits instead of pulling them down. This was followed by mind mapping around the teaching aids which can be used to engage the students for sexuality education – flash cards, models, pictures, charts, abacus, storytelling, audio visual to name few.

It’s not always easy for a teacher to take out an extra class for sexuality education, so discussed as to how one can use their subject knowledge to talk about taboo-ed issues, some of the very interesting options were- 

“With English, drama, debates, slogans and references from the stories can be used”

“Being a Mathematics teacher, I can talk about choice of subjects and gender- supporting them to break fixed mindsets and help them to work on improving their aptitude. Also numbers and integers can be used to talk about gender discrimination”

“I have assembly responsibility, so there we can provide equitable responsibility to boys and girls so that the discrimination which is visible there can be eradicated”

“In social sciences, we can talk about history of strong willed women who broke gender stereotypes and are an example for the society”

“Being a science teacher, we would use models, and with open mind teach in details reproduction system along with the building understanding on gender”

In the next part of the session, we shared the tools that we use during our sessions with adolescents which included various mind mapping tools, videos, stories, group discussion points etc. 

Now each teacher was given 30 minutes to prepare a 10 minute session for their class, few of them were asked to volunteer to present their session.

One of the teacher, explained “Menstruation and taboos”- it was interesting to see that he used charts and film to explain periods, menstrual cycle and the myths associated with it. The other participants asked lot of questions around it which were also answered.

One of the other female teacher conducted a session on “Puberty” and “Child sexual abuse”- it was very impressive as she weaved a story and step by step explained the body changes and the emotional changes that come along it, and what all societal pressures one go through it.

Another teacher used presentation to explain gender differences and how anyone be it boy or a girl can challenge gender norms by giving examples.

So, since there were 30 teachers, with time limitations it was not possible that all 30 participants could present their sessions- but I would love to share few very innovative and creative designs- 

One of the teachers had used concept of rational and irrational numbers to explain Peer pressure, someone used art to explain Child sexual abuse, someone used presentation to explain puberty and body changes, one of them created a design to prevent child sexual abuse- I was astounded by the creativity and innovative ways by which teachers have prepared their session, I couldn’t even imagine how much interest this would generate among the students. With this, I had this wish that I could have had such teachers but I was also happy that we could facilitate them to make such sessions which would be immensely helpful for the adolescents.

“You have immense energy, how I wish our teachers had half energy as much as you, the school would have been much better. But please continue doing this work. I am highly inspired and I would make sure my classes and students are more informed and responsible students” 

"I am coming from Gurudwara, i had to give speech there, so for 15 minutes i engaged with the people on gender discrimination. You won't believe men and women were sitting together unlike other situations where they sit in different rows"

"I was deeply intimidated by yesterday's conversation, after the workshop i directly spoke to my wife and daughter about child sexual abuse and also about gender. So what if she is young she should be aware and independent to combat any situation"

Nothing could have been a better closure for me. As a student, I remember struggling to have conversations with teacher, but never got courage because they were so strict and went by discipline with no scope for asking questions related to subjects forget about sharing problems. I think this is one step towards breaking that structure which is shielded by the wall of discipline to facilitate conversations between teachers and students.          

Comprehensive Sexuality Education: personal experiences then and now!

“I don’t really know how parents would react towards providing sex education in the school, but what I know is that the fellow teachers actually would gossip around and spread bad things about me if I attempt also. So there was this time, when two girls came to the science lab during lunch time and the door was partially closed, I didn’t do anything but answer them. The next thing I heard was I purposely ask girls to come during recess because that time no one is there. I am a family man I can’t afford having bad name or loose a job over a rumor” says a male teacher.

“But, the children know what is right or wrong for them! When we were in 6th Standard, we girls knew that we shouldn’t go to this certain teacher alone anytime, so we used to visit his room in groups. However with a supportive teacher, things can become really good for students. I remember I was really good in quiz competition. The next competition was organized in the city, as I was the only girl, I was told not to go and there were no female teacher who could accompany me. I really wanted to go because I knew I will win and I didn’t want to lose this opportunity. My teacher not only prepared me, but went against all odds to take me ahead in the competition and I won state championship. But teachers like him are rare”

The second day began with the wolf and sheep energizer, we were bit apprehensive as to should be do this or not- because it’s a very physical game and the teachers were wearing sarees! But at the same time, we had a very engaging and intimidating gender session last day. So this energizer was a challenge for both the facilitators and the participants. What happened was nothing less than the surprise, both male and female teachers excelled on their part- there was just fierce confidence and the hold that “I can do this”, what a brilliant way to begin the day with :-)

Usually the discussions begin with the ‘why do we need a particular thing?’ But here in case of Comprehensive sexuality education- we went in the reverse way- we engaged on the popular reasons that are stated why we shouldn’t impart CSE?

One of the most popular reasons being- “Sexuality education is completely against our culture” – surprisingly most of the participants stated that sexuality education has got nothing to do with the culture. One of them said that there have been so many traditions which were followed in the name of culture that were inhuman and unfair, and so we can’t really say that culture teaches us the right path and more over we are the one that makes culture and hence it can be changed depending on the need and the human values.

Second- “All these things doesn’t happen in my school/class”- Most of them nodded against this – because the issues around adolescents are rampant and curiosities are quite visible. One of the teacher said, “Initially our school had all male teacher, one day a girl had periods, we all freaked out because none of us really knew what was happening to her, is she hurt? Or how can we help her? Will she be okay if we talk to her then we had to actually call a teacher from the close by school to deal with the situation? I was actually paranoid for the first time in my life”

Third- “Teachers are already overburdened with work without having this extra subject to teach”- this was one of the reasons almost all teacher agreed to since as a teacher, their responsibility is not just restricted to teaching students but also they are accountable for admin work, examination and official duties. However it was interesting to see teacher contemplating on their own student life and the last day discussion which also emphasized the need to talk about this with their students. So, one of the teacher said that they would take out time for a free lesson and talk about these issues. Also here, one of the teachers shared how he under the social sciences, tried imparting sex education and HIV awareness, certain teachers went against him and complained about it to the Principal. He enquired about this to the students and also with the teacher- they seemed to be happy about the information given so Principal not only gave him green signal but also motivated him to take these lessons with other students.

Fourth- “Giving students this kind of information is like giving them a green signal to experiment” This lead to an amazing and interesting discussion because teachers did had their apprehensions and questions about Sexuality education. On dwelling deeper over the statement, they came to the conclusion that adolescents are already experiencing, seeing and hearing about this in their spaces, from technology or from their peers, so it’s better if they are provided with guided age appropriate information that could help them take right decision. Also this will facilitate awareness about their physical body, make them into confident adults and also preventing child sexual abuse.

Once we came up to the conclusion through discussions, debates, and personal sharing that ‘Sexuality education’ is indeed needed in the schools, in the second part of the session the participants were invited to dwell on the components of sexuality education and reflect on their experiences of their adolescence and how they dealt with these issues. This activity turned out to be mind blowing with humongous response which only cemented the need for sexuality education.

First group shared on ‘sex education’- where they shared that around the age of 13-14 they first heard about sex, there was so much curiosity around it but they had no one to answer that. Mostly all the information came from peer and they were intended to do things which now they think were not right. 

Second group shared on ‘Peer pressure and body image’- Here the participants insisted that the adolescents must be educated about peer pressure and body image by listing the positives and negative impact. Some of them also shared how body image issues led to low self esteem and lowered their self confidence in their growing years.

Third group shared about ‘Menstruation’ where women participants shared that they got to know about periods only when they had, and even then there was no discussion, they experienced lot of shame and felt dirty about it. Though they heard about myths and still follow them like not going to religious place, not touching pickle during periods. Also the male participants never actually heard about it. Strangely they recalled how they used to feel bad or guilty or shame when advertisements about sanitary pad used to come on television!

 Fourth group discussed about Puberty, good and bad aspects of growing up where they listed various points- for example: females start feeling insecure because of breasts, periods, people make fun. Also the lack of awareness led to tension, pressure, frustrations and here there were lot of expectations being imposed, so they didn’t really got directions but were bombarded with lot of do’s and don’ts without explanations.

Fifth and the last group shared about “Gender”-
“Yes, the girls are told what subjects to take and what not to. After boards I was told not to take mathematics by my teachers. I was forced to study medical and fared miserably and then I took the decision to follow my interest and now I am MSc in Mathematics and Maths teacher.”
“the gender discrimination is propagated not just in subjects but also the sports that students play for example hockey, football or cricket is for boys while girls are asked to play kho kho or indoor games. The sports teachers are mostly male and they literally ask girls students not to play the games like cricket”
“Also after puberty, there is so much restrictions on girls about what to wear, they are constantly asked to wear dupattas or suit salwar to hide their body parts, they are told not to sit with boys”
“So I really liked by chachaji, he was everything to me, I used to play with him, eat with him and also sleep with him and suddenly as I was 11 years old I was restricted even to meet him. That time I thought I did something terribly wrong that’s why this happened with me

It was beautiful to see how teachers could reflect on their adolescent years and understand that the students need sexuality education because immediately after this one of the teacher came and said to me, “We have lot of space during assembly time, we can actually prepare a synopsis and present it in an interactive way so that more and more students are benefited by the information”

Building understanding on "Gender based violence" with the teachers of Naoshera

“It’s not only women who cook food, have you seen that in the 5 star hotels, or most of the renowned hotel, chefs are Men!”

“But, in the hotels and restaurants, people are paid to cook food, whereas women cooking in the home is not even considered a job, it is counted as a responsibility!”

The second session as part of our two day “gender sensitization training and capacity building” for the teachers of rural government schools, Naoshera Tehsil was based on understanding gender based violence and then dwelling into the issue of child sexual abuse.

The session began with few statements being read by facilitator and then participants were invited to share their opinion as to whether they consider this statement as violence or not.

Molestation and eve teasing happens because of modernization- girls wear short clothes, do late nights/wear makeup
With the very first statement, the focus came on the recent “Kathua rape case” in which a minor girl was gang raped and brutally murdered. The discussion began with the thought that the context of the place does matter, so here in a small village- people will stare or talk if a girl is wearing jeans forget about shorts however, the same girl can wear whatever she wants in metro city, no one will raise a finger. But then immediately this point was counteracted with the number of rising cases of molestation in metro cities. The discussion was concluded that rape/molestation/eve teasing has nothing to do with what a girl wears, at what time she goes out, or what her age is simply because women in sarees, clad in burkha, barely few months old, elderly woman of 70 years have been raped and not to forget about the violence that women are subjected in their own homes.

“Boys shouldn’t cry”
All the men in the workshop unanimously agreed to the fact that this statement itself is violence, because even men are human beings, they have emotions and letting them out when they are hurt is no crime. Since childhood, boys are taught not to cry, not to be weak, so all this emotions keep piling up and there seems no way to let it out so many of them resort to some sort of intoxication and many of them become emotionally numb too.

“Women should cook food”
All the participants were shocked, and were looking at each other with disbelief. Few of them immediately refuted stating that violence is a strong word and cooking is a household chore so it can’t be equated to violence. But this statement turned out to be the most debatable, interesting and engaging one. There were arguments like
“If a man is working throughout the day, then what will a woman do if she is at home doing nothing?”
“A woman even if she is working, pregnant, ill, or in any namely circumstances, the responsibility of cooking falls on her”
“We are taught to cook food and do household chores from early age with a warning that if we didn’t learn that our lives would be miserable, we are not even given options. Are boys told something like this as eligibility for marriage?”  
“I think marriage is about compromise, if we keep fighting over small things like I have cooked today then the husband should cook tomorrow if not then there will be fight, that’s not our culture!”
“What if you are asked to cook food for coming 10 years for all three times with no pay. Don’t you think that would be violence?”
“You are right, cooking is a thankless job! We take it so for granted, don’t even bother helping, we are always making demands”
“Mam, after this discussion, I guess most of us will go and help in cooking food for our family”
“Thank god, this discussion is not going live on television, otherwise from tomorrow we all have to engage in household work. I didn’t even know how to chop vegetables”

Touching a student inappropriately (be it male or female) without their consent
All the participants unanimously agreed that this is violence

Men doing household work or cooking food are zoru ka gulam
The discussion over this statement took a hilarious turn when one of the  male teacher said that he doesn’t mind being called one because he really loves his wife and helps her in all the household work. Also, they shared that it’s not just men who use derogatory statement towards other man who supports his wife, but even women say this. Many a times, their own mothers have stopped them from helping wife, sometimes wife says that you are not a woman to engage in this work and also the kind of nasty comments men are subjected to when they want to support the women in their lives, so yes this also is counted under violence.

Repeated negative comments about a person’s appearance (fat, thin, black or too white) , sexual orientation , lifestyle, family, or culture
It was one of the most intriguing discussions where a  participant shared how due to his religion particularly in this part of Jammu, he was subjected to violent threats by people and also his own colleagues didn’t support him and he almost lost his job. There were lot of sharing on how being a male or a female teacher also put them under judgments by other staff members or parents and the consequent struggles. 

Taking the cues from the elaborate discussion, gender based violence and its various types were defined and explained. 

In the next part of the session, an animation film “Komal” by Child line was screened followed by building an understanding on “child sexual abuse” and “POCSO act”. This was very crucial because the cases of child sexual abuse have become rampant and children consider their teachers as trusted adults so they must be equipped with adequate knowledge on the same.

While I was leaving, a teacher came to me, she held my hand and with a small smile said, “I can’t tell you how proud your parents must be, they are so lucky to have a daughter like you. The way you facilitated the session, I could understand things clearly. All these issues are so crucial, we as teachers struggle with them on daily basis, many a times very helpless. But seeing you people engaging on these issues bring so much hope. I can see the change happening and I feel proud”