Saturday, 14 July 2018

When ‘Identity session’ challenged us with gender stereotypes and questioned ‘inclusivity of classroom!

“I don’t want to take this sheet, can you give me another one” said one of the participant

“But why?”

To this question, not one but 4-5 boys said in unison that pink is the color of girls, we are boys and we shouldn’t take this!
We conducted our first workshop on “Who am I?” with another set of 30 adolescent boys studying in Government school, Dwarka sec-3, as part of gender, sexuality and reproductive health program. The session began with sharing our work at Sahas and details of weekly workshops on various thematic as part of program followed by the importance of the curriculum for adolescents.

Following the discussion on agreements, we did “Ek Ungli” energizer to bring the attention and energy of the participants in workshop space! It was very interesting to see many participants willing to do it again except one who refused to take part stating that he didn’t enjoy dancing. While playing the game, I saw a boy struggling with the steps – though I was instructing in a slow pace, he was finding it hard to grab and do it, and at the same time I saw another boy supporting him with the steps. I was taken aback, I always thought that this is the easiest game and seeing a child struggling to do the same hit my consciousness really hard. 

In the first activity the participants were invited to write answers to 15 questions based on “Myself”. As against the previous class, these boys were very calm, they took time to think and fill the answers.
In the second activity “Make your identity map”, the adolescents were asked to write things, words or sentences which they associate with themselves. After this, they had to share their identity maps in the larger group, in this process they had to pair with another person who shares one or more common points. This activity surprised us in many ways; there was constant mention of dislike towards fighting, one of them shared that he loved to learn new things, 2-3 boys said they love Hindi – for me this was particularly surprising because most of the time people find it shameful or they detest the language instead they take pride in saying that they know or love English. One of the boys shared his entire life story in the identity map- he had come from village to Delhi for studies, he shared his ambitions, also about his friend helped him to score good marks. This is actually the core of the activity that participants could figure out and relate their life and identity.  Few of the participants added an extra circle to add more words to their identity map. 

“I feel pity when I see poor people, so when I grow up I would support such people”

Here the participants didn’t just write hobbies as dancing but also choreography, just implying how clear they are- they not only want to learn but have the desire to facilitate that learning as well. I also noticed that none of them mentioned gender as their identity but most of them paired according to their ambitions or hobbies.

On asking how they felt being paired or not being able to find a person for pairing-

“I was surprised that he has written the same thing though he sat exactly opposite to me!”

“I was upset that I didn’t get a partner, I wanted to have a friend just like others”

“I was happy that someone has written what I wrote”    

What happened in the next activity “Changing identities in the life cycle” was shocking – it’s something that we never encountered in the past two years. The first picture was of a child- instead of saying that the participants argued that this is a baby girl because she looked like a girl, and then there was picture of a girl who was engineer- the participants kept on insisting that either she is a laborer or nurse or just girl! And for the third picture- instead of saying mother and child- they ended up saying mother and son. 

The issue of gender and socio-economic identity to an extent dominated the workshop pointing clearly the need for gender education in the schools. This was followed by sharing of the stories of Mahatma Gandhi and Rani Laxmi Bai when they were adolescents. The main objective being that during this stage, we have curiosities, we want to do things our way, we may commit mistakes, however it is important to understand and learn values because they lay the foundation for our life ahead and never be scared to ask questions!

In the next activity “Catch the ball and tell me”- participants shared their unique quality with the action- someone said dancing and he showed Michael Jackson’s moon walk, another one did a yoga pose, someone said he is good at skating, someone said cooking and so on.

In the last activity “Will you be my friend?” the participants were invited to get paired up with the person they were least acquainted with- then share answers on 6 questions, and finally present their new friend to the big circle. I was surprised and really happy to see one of the boys moving towards the other boy (who had difficulty in writing and reading) and making him his friend. Also both of them presented each other in the larger circle followed by loud clapping. Not only this, I could actually see how few of the students helped him in various places, motivating and waiting for him to participate- my heart was filled with joy! 

So, at the end the boy who appeared to be vulnerable, scared and looked puzzled was smiling looking at us, was playful and at that moment I thought that we have actually taken a step ahead towards co-creating an inclusive classroom

Deciphering “Who am I?” by negotiating between given and desired identity

“I want to create Robots and become a big scientist one day”

“I like English language, I also like to hear and listen to English songs and one day I will go to America”

“I want to become richer than Bill gates”

We began our “Gender, sexuality and reproductive health curriculum” with 40 students of Government school, Dwarka sec-3 with our first session on “Who am I?” The 2 hour workshop began with the sharing of the intention of the curriculum, a brief account of our work at Sahas and why we are working with adolescents! Then we engaged on the agreements with the participants which are pre-requisite for creating safe sharing spaces for this workshop and coming ones so that they could share their curiosities, questions, doubts and experiences without the fear of being judged. 

To bring the focus of participant’s energy and attention, we played “Ungli Dance” and suddenly they were smiling, giggling and seemed lot relaxed as the barrier that was there because of uncertainty just melted. In the next activity, the participants were invited to dwell more on their identity by filling a sheet of 15 questions individually – questions like who is your favorite teacher, what you like most about your school, who loves you most?, what is your dream or whom do you hate most?

After this, the participants were invited to create their individual identity cards, which are different from the usual identity cards that we have. Here, they were asked to fill the words or things that they associate with themselves- like what they like to do, their hobbies, or anything they associate with their identity. This activity reflected in detail the socio-economic identity that the participants associate with themselves. Their dreams and aspirations were unique, unlikely of mundane jobs like becoming a doctor or Engineer, also the curiosity to earn money, learning English indicated how they want to change their socio-economic identity. 

For me, it was wonderful because they were not scared to dream irrespective of their socio-economic class; however it was scary at the same time because to have these certain notions may lead them to fall in the rat race forgetting their own skill sets or values, they may become over competitive and lose the very innocence which made them endearing.

Another aspect that stood out during these conversations pointed towards peer pressure- there were so much expectations on how their friends should be- one of them even suggested that the friend should be smart and good looking.

Few points that caught our attention were-
One of the boy mentioned things that he doesn’t do and don’t like in his identity – not even a single sentence had “I like to.”
Few of them said they love cooking.
None of the boys mentioned “Being boy” as their identity.
Most of them constantly pointed out that they don’t like fighting, they dislike that so many fights happen in the school, also teachers many a time don’t stop these fights, one of the person stated that he really liked attending parties and dancing in the parties

I was particularly amused when a participant shared his likes with a constant post word as “Mazza aata hai  

Then we engaged on how identity changes during the course of life- it was interesting that the participants could actually decipher it without much help. In the next part of the workshop, to help them understand how important is adolescence and dwelling into their identity and values at this point – we shared stories of Gandhi ji and Rani Laxmi Bai when they were adolescents.

“So, Girls are not weak, they can do whatever boys can do” a boy shared after hearing Rani Laxmi Bai’s story.

In the last activity “catch the ball and tell me one thing” was beautiful and struggle some in many ways- the participants were finding it so difficult to share one good quality about themselves and they either ended up sharing their dreams or regular sentences like “helping others”. 

This workshop was very different in many ways- the boys were thinking deeply and were engrossed in writing the “Myself” questionnaire as well as identity map, I was glad that they could focus on themselves and be honest at the time of sharing. It seems like the journey with these 40 adolescent boys would be a unique roller coaster ride !

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The politics of ‘consent’ in the most dangerous country for women?

“I wanted to study further, I loved reading but I had to leave in between because my parents got me married. I had to because my No meant nothing at that time! ”, shared one of the participants.

It has been almost a year involving marathon of gender work with adolescents, police and teachers, because of which “Kadam Mila Kar Chalna Hoga” somehow went on hiatus. This program has always been very close to my heart primarily because through this we engage with the women who live in our neighborhood on the crucial issues of gender and gender based violence, co-create women’s circle where they can share their pain, joy, sorrows and in turn support each other. This has not been really easy path for us because there is so much hostility towards each other in the community resulting in the mistrust among them. The series of movie screening under ‘Kadam Mila Kar Chalna Hoga’ has resulted in progression of the trust and safe space among the women; unfortunately they have found common ground in pain inflicted through their life due to gender norms and stereotypes.

To say I was baffled by the recent global poll (Thompson Reuters Foundation) which states that “India is the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence” was more than an understatement. There is no denying fact that the violence against women is on rise in spite of extensive gender work and laws in India but to be declared as the most dangerous country made me shiver in the worst possible way.

With this challenging scenario, I thought to initiate conversation and build an understanding on “gender based violence and consent” with the women living in the neighborhood of Sahas.

We began the event by sharing about the intention for the day and Sahas in brief. The participants were invited to share their name and one unique quality they have. They struggled to share their qualities, and then ended up saying “they love to cook” or “Helping others”

Then we screened ‘Anaarkali of Aarah’ a 2017 Indian film written and directed by debutant Avinash Das. It’s a story of Anaarkali, who makes a living by performing on double meaning songs in public functions. During one of her stage shows, Anaarkali comes across Vice Chancellor Dharmender Chauhan who molests her in front of thousands of people. This leads to a conflict between the two where Dharmender holding a position of power has an upper hand but Anaarkali refuses to give in to the challenges thrown in her life and instead decides to fight back.

What really intrigued me was, while watching the movie, the participants were motivating, saying encouraging words to Anaarkali, and was making happy noises whenever she takes any action. It somehow made me think that is it because in our real lives, we hardly get to say “No” or don’t actually gather enough courage for ourselves? 

The participants were then invited to share ‘a word or a sentence’ that came to their mind after watching the movie.
“People like VC and Police should be taught a lesson just like this”
“Whatever a woman does, she will always be judged in terms of her choices, the kind of clothes she wears or the profession”
"I don't understand why man can't hear NO from woman? Whatever is her profession, whatever she wears, wherever she goes, she has the right to say No. Unfortunately we are always taught to say Yes and when we say No, it's conveniently ignored"
“Touching her or doing anything to her without her consent is wrong; you can’t touch a woman just because you feel like”
“It was her profession, she was doing it because she liked it and was earning well but that doesn’t give anyone the license to do this”
“I loved the climax of the film and the way she explains NO”
“The mindset of society is so doomed and wrong that they can’t see a woman doing what she wants to”
“The relationship with Rangeela was by her choice but what VC did was against her consent, there is a difference and men tends to ignore it because of their own whimps”

In the next activity, the participants were invited to share “one crucial incident or any decision of their life where they gave consent or their choices were respected”
Unfortunately except for one woman, none of them could recall any such life changing events, it was scary because all of them have what society says a well settled life- married, with kids, regular income etc!! 

The next question “one crucial incident or any decision of their life when their NO was not heard” Sadly, all hands shot up
“I wanted to study and become teacher but my parents got my marriage fixed. I didn’t want to marry but my NO was royally ignored”
“I was a very enthusiastic kid, I wanted to play games professionally, I was into theatre and dancing but my journey was cut short, because I had come to the ripe age of marriage”
“I wanted to learn music, but my dad denied saying that girls shouldn’t sing”
“Marriage is all I can think of because it was an important decision and I was not even asked about it”
“Even now, in household decisions, I hardly think woman’s consent or NO matters”
Taking cue from the film and discussion with the participants, gender, gender based violence, gravity of the situation and how important is the consent was elaborated.

An interesting conversation happened over the difference of age between boys and girls during marriage.
“I never wanted my son to marry that girl, she was 8 years older. But then, he loved her so I had no choice” said one of the participant.
Before I could say anything, another participant replied, “But earlier men used to be so much older than girls like every men at the time of marriage but nobody objected and now also no one objects so why do that with girls?”
“I feel nowadays the age difference hardly matters, it’s about love and compatibility. I got my daughter married for the second time, no one was agreeing but I wanted my daughter to be happy. That was all that matter”

Just before closing, one of the elderly woman said, “If you don’t mind I want to suggest you something like my daughter. Your voice is too loud, girls shouldn’t fight like that. You should tone down” I had a known smirk on my face and I was about to say something because this was a prospective discussion but then another participant interrupted
“But why would you tell her to tone down, this is her work. She goes to various places, talk about violence and if she hesitates to even raise voice than that would be contradict her own work.”

And then i could just smile because this is more than what I can hope for in just 3 hours <3