At 11.30 am, Class 7 students at Ghatla Municipal School in Chembur are bent over a game of snakes and ladders. Team A goes up a ladder on reaching the third block, which says ‘Celebrated a girl’s birth’. Team B gets unlucky on block 29 as the snake bites them for ‘Blaming the girl when boys tease her’.
Later, the teacher Vaishali Vagh deliberately lets her teacup fall. The front-benchers rush to pick up the pieces. She uses the opportunity to explain the importance of mending broken relationships and not tolerating violence.
Such innovative methods are being used to make civic school students question gender biases and rethink social norms during workshops as part of the ‘Gender Equity Movement in Schools’ (GEMS). Before starting the three-year project in July 2008, researchers from Community of Resource Organisation (CORO), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) had conducted a survey of 2,800 students to assess attitudes.
Based on negative reactions to statements like -- ‘A woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together’ and ‘Caring for a child is the mother’s responsibility’, it was found that only 23 per cent of the girls and 24 per cent of the boys supported gender equality.“A year into the project, the number increased to 53 per cent of girls and 39 per cent of boys,” said ICRW director Dr Ravi Verma, adding that GEMS was meant not just to sensitise children but also to transform them.
The weekly workshops have made girls realise they are not doomed to a life in the kitchen. Now, Surekha Owad (12) does not let her younger brother play while she toils at home. “I ask him to help me finish the house work so we can both play,” she said.She added that the discussions had helped in breaking the stereotype that 'good girls stay at home after marriage'. “I want to work in an office,” said Owad.
Pallavi Palav from CORO said that the workshops had reduced inhibitions amongst girls and boys, who have started interacting freely. “Girls are teased less now,” she said. “A lot of students used to think that it is a parent’s right to hit children to correct them and a husband’s right to ‘control’ his wife. We make them question such beliefs,” said Dr Shubhada Maitra from TISS.
She added they would do a survey to gauge changes in attitudes when the project ends in March 2011 and start a similar movement in 1200 civic schools, if the result is encouraging.ICRW is also running GEMS at 600 schools in Kota, Rajasthan, and five schools in Goa.