According to Global Fund for Children’s data, over 190 countries across the world have closed their schools in the aftermath of the COVID19 outbreak. But that doesn’t mean learning should stop.
Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC), a youth-led initiative led by Martha Farrell Foundation allows young boys and girls to participate together in the deconstruction of gender stereotypes and to end gender discrimination and violence. Before the commencement of the nationwide lockdown, the team of KBC facilitated sessions at the Rajkiya Varishtha Madhyamik School, Wazipur, Titana (Panipat, Haryana) on how patriarchal structures manifest themselves in our daily lives. Using that as the entry point, students engaged in a discussion on privilege and power. They also discussed the baselessness of roles and behavioral markers that have been historically assigned to genders.
Sachin, a ninth-standard student, defined patriarchy in the simplest terms. He said, “When a man (father or grandfather) is always the head of the family, it is essentially patriarchy. He is the decision maker of the house and decides who will work, study, expenses of the house, and things to be bought and sold. He is like the Prime Minister of the house.”
Living with his parents and younger sister, Sachin used to think his family was pretty progressive for encouraging his sister to go for higher education, which is rare for most girls in his classmates’ families. He further expressed, “She feels comfortable in talking to me about period, or her day at school. Both of us participate in household chores. My mother partners up with my father to make crucial decisions in and outside the house.”
However, through the session, he realised that these things are not really “progressive” but what should have been normal all along. “When we treat a woman fairly, we shouldn’t think of it as conferring a special privilege on her,” he expressed to the KBC facilitators adding, “My classmates and I also understood that patriarchy is not really a source of power for men; in fact, it is extremely harmful for both men and women.”
The KBC sessions helped Sachin unlearn the fundamental building blocks of patriarchy. He was able to see how gender stereotypes work in inexplicable manners. “Financial matters, economic decisions, employment, education, emotions and household work are ultimately shared concerns that don’t and shouldn’t depend on gender,” the 14-year-old later reflected.
Through various interactive and arts-based activities, the students reflected on all the decisions and occasions in their lives where gender has unconciously played a determining role. For example, girls and boys realized they can choose any career they want to, rather than limiting their choices by what society conceives as manly or lady-like.
The participants also discussed the ways in which patriarchy places the burden on men, to be the bread-winner, the heavy lifter, the emotionally stronger one. They also contended with questions like: “What if men are unable to provide for their families? Lift heavy weights? Cry? Does it take away their manliness? What is a man anyway?” Sachin, who aspires to become a CRPF cadet, has an answer for all those who believe that patriarchy is the only conceivable way to think, act, and live.
“Patriarchy is an ideology which benefits the ones in the higher position. Just like with any other privilege, agents of patriarchy don’t realise its effects on other people. Men should stop feeling powerful by ill-treating women. It is not a universal or an unchangeable fact for men to act in a certain manner. It’s an ideology, we can and we must choose to refuse it,” he strongly urged.
“We have seen a positive change in the thinking of both girls and boys in the class. Earlier, they were hesitant in interacting with each other in class,” a teacher reported back to the KBC facilitators. However, she added, “With the growing understanding of the opposite genders, unlearning the myths connected to gender, patriarchy, stereotypes in the KBC sessions, the students are building their own perspectives rather blindly following the societal norms.”
KBC encourages the youth to interact with each other in a protected environment, which serves to deepen their understanding of the other sex. The programme offers them a platform for constructive collaboration and peaceful coexistence from their formative years, so that as adults, they can create a more gender-fair and gender-equal world at homes, at their workplace, and in their communities.