Gender in School Education

Wed, Aug 21, 2019


Gender is a complex idea that is linked to, influences and is influenced by many other aspects. Some more obvious examples of these are division of labor and the wage ratio, notion of what constitutes and is recognized as work, the use of language, structure of society decision making hierarchy, social and cultural rituals, access to different places, ownership and inheritance of property etc. Whenever we talk about gender we often do not consider these at all which actually means talking about gender in a vacuum and in a benign form.  In this short article focused on school and gender education I would not be able to talk  about the complex relationship among these. But the first point that I want to underline is that a discussion on gender is incomplete without an understanding of the issues that play a role in defining this.
As mentioned above, I would only talk about Gender in terms of school education here and highlight some of the points that a school must consider in the context gender equity.  Before we move ahead it is important to define what we are talking about and hence I would try to ask what gender in the context of the school is? The common prevailing understanding is; don’t differentiate between boys and girls, and treat them equally. This seems pretty simple, but when we ask what does it really mean in terms of concrete steps and what would be the impediments to it, then the answers are not simple.  For example, does it only means that girls would be allowed to (or encouraged to!!?) do the kind of work that the boys are doing? And so can they now join the so called tough jobs like army, air-force, truck driving, fire-persons and so on?  In terms of behaviour does it mean that they do come home late, drive crazily, do what they please, have late night parties and do such things, or it means something different. Similarly, we also need to ask that while this happens for girls does something change for boys too? Or things and expectations would change for them too. Would they now be expected to help in the house hold chores, in rearing children, being concerned about everyone in the family etc. It is clear that the expectation and opportunities for both have to change and the behaviour of boys has to become different too. Therefore, what is needed in the school and even in the community is understanding of what would be the steps that would initiate movement towards gender equity. We would in the next section talk about what are some of other key aspects that we need to think about when engaging with this question.
Kamala Bhasin in her book Understanding Gender says gender is not something that is given by nature, it has been constructed and given a specific meaning sociologically and culturally. It is structured by the way societies distinguish between men and women and assign them role. For example, in our society it is only the expected duty of women to take care of the children and elderly persons in all manners and forms. So much so even in the inter-spouse relation it is the wife who has to take care of the needs and whims of the husband and among siblings, it is the sister who has to ensure that the brother is provided for. Whereas, men are considered as the head, the bread winner, pursues actively in profession, religion and manage property. The society has been rendered unsafe for women by men and the responsibility that the father, husband, brother have is to protect and guard the sister and that also gives them the authority to circumscribe their movements and freedoms. Now a days though we see that women are going out and also taking up different jobs and helping the family economically but still her primary duty is to take care of the family because it is ingrained that the men are not meant to do the house hold chores.    While in villages women have always looked after all this and also worked in the fields and managed animals to contribute to the economic earnings, now even in towns and cities women are doing so. The difference is that these women have a earning that can be identified as their and is in their name (this is akin to the NREGA and other earning of women in villages.) Women thus have now to fulfil both roles of being the bread winner and the care giver to the family, putting double load on them. It is because of this we need to always think of actions to move towards gender equity in a manner that takes in to account both men and women.
Analyzing, the way society differentiates between men and women and assigns them social roles, is a real way to understand the realities and think about making changes. We need to recognize that some of these run deep in to history and culture. Every culture has its own way of bringing up and educating girls and boys though elders, rites and cultural and social functions and rituals.  And through these processes eventually assigning them specific and different roles and responsibilities. The society over a period of time constructs a biological male and a female to a socio-culturally constructed woman or man. The masculine and the feminine are provided with different attributes, qualities, behaviour, responsibility, roles and even rights.
School is placed in the society itself. When children come to school they come with the belief and views that are held by the society. It is therefore essential for the school to first recognize these beliefs and views that children come with and then create spaces, (at the various learning sites be it a classroom or a playground or an assembly hall) where these discussions, dialogues and alternate experiences can be provided towards these. For example statements like girls cannot play football or girl need to be fair in complexion, look beautiful, and behave sincerely all the time. Or like boys would be boys, boys are expected to be noisy and playful, girls have a caring maternal disposition, and many more are reflections of the difference felt. We also need to resist that in a school function girl cannot help in shifting any furniture as they cannot do hard work.   All these reflect the stereo types that influence our minds.
It is important to recognize that teachers are the ones who would carry this discussion further. The teachers must therefore be aware of what is gender and the basic linked issues. How it manifests and where all.  For a good functioning it is also necessary that some conversation on this issue keeps happening among and with teachers. It is also very important that how male and female teacher behave with each other in a manner that is aligned to expected movement towards gender equity. There must be concern about the kind of relationship they have with each other. All this is because children learn a lot more from observing things around, then they learn from being told.
At least the school should try to develop in such a space where children see and understand that there is no difference between male and female other than that they are naturally and biologically different. The rest of the differences have been culturally and socially created, and therefore have a full possibility to be redefined and created again.
The schools can support reduction in the disregard to, control of, insult of, and exploitation of, violence against and oppression of women. Gender sensitivity processes in the school must play a role in understanding and acknowledging that women are equal and are not to be subjugated and subordinated. Subordination of girls/women in society is not only destructive for the girl child/women but even for boys/men and the entire society.
Gender sensitization can attempt to drive home the point that a common understanding must be reached and respected regarding this issue of the different expected behaviour pattern of the two genders and the behaviour shown by them. This analysis in the context of the school would help us understand their needs and concerns are.
In other words, Gender sensitization refers to the moderation of behaviour by raising awareness towards the issue of gender equality and the challenges in its path. School, teachers and parent can play a pivotal role in removing gender bias and inequality. The awareness of the need for gender equality can be ignited in young girls and boys. School is a miniature society and changes here has direct bearing on the evolution of students as well as society in general. Carefully prepared students can act as the torch bearer of equality and justice. In my view therefore, the first step towards gender equality must be at the school level itself. A school can play a significant role in establishing a society that is not defined as being safe and comfortable for women but a society that where they have same rights, freedoms, opportunities and access.
Another important point in my view is ethics and ethical development. This whole process in my view would also positively impact some parts of the morality of the child. I believe as the morality of the child will improve, he will display great respect for women, eventually as a small outcome substantially reducing sexual abuse and violence.
Unfortunately today the schools are only academically inclined and perceive academic advancement as the only way to success. They mirror the perception and values of society and shackle girls in their exposure and opportunities. Though many schools include value education in the curriculum, implementation and evaluation of such program is superficial. Moral value need to be inculcated at a primary stage in a radically different and systematic manner. Narratives and stories imbued with alternative social and cultural behaviour pattern need to be narrated at a young age by dedicated teachers in order to develop a sense of empathy towards the other gender. The schools and teachers need to engage with the issue of equity of gender and show it in their behaviour and activity. There must also be discussions and conversations around these and analysis of behaviour to overturn slowly the gender hierarchy and exploitation that is steeped in to the society.
The school, the teachers and the guardians are the joint custodians of this process and must come to believe that they are the catalyst who can being about the changes in the society and in the mindset of the community.      
(The author is Deputy Headmaster (Pastoral) at The Assam Valley School. Email:

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi