“I have heard a number of times my father talking about my sister; he says she should know how to clean, wash clothes and cook food”
“My birthday is celebrated with pomp and show while my sister’s birthday goes unnoticed”
“Boys don’t need to seek permission to go anywhere while girls need permission for everything they want to do”
“There are more men in public spaces and handful women there”
“Whenever group of boys see a girl alone they try to tease her or even eve tease; specifically when girls go alone in the park and that’s why they always go with their friends”
Contrary to our assumption that the participants study in all boy’s school and with respect to their age, they would have hardly come face to face with the gender differences- the above statements were not only eye opener but also emphasized on the understanding that conversations around gender is a must irrespective of the age.
The workshop started with the “Train game”, where the participants were invited to become coaches of the train who would imitate what the engine does- many funny moves, lot of chaos happened. After settling down, we screened the movie “Lesser Man”.
We then played the games of Chinese whispers- interestingly we started with 2 big sentences which ended up in 3 words. Then the facilitator co-created the story of humans with the participants and through the Chinese whispers established the definition of “gender”. It was interesting to see how gender is internalized even at such a young age that when asked “Who will take care of agricultural fields?” without a second, the answer came as “son”! Then began a discussion as to how women and girls should be restricted to household chores and men must do work outside to earn bread and butter. While some agreed that gender differences exist, some refused by saying that “our mother and father both cook. If mom is not at home, even being a son I cook”
I then questioned as to “there are three meals in a day, what do you think who cooks often and clean house”
There was deafening silence and then said, “You are right! I never thought in that way”
The participants were then divided into 3 different groups- each was given a space- home, public spaces and friends- they were then asked to write gender differences in the respective spaces. There was lot of noise, many participants seemed distracted, I was cautious as to whether they have actually understood gender or maybe not. All my doubts got cleared when each group started sharing their points of discussion in the larger circle.
“Boys ride bikes mostly and they eve tease girls”
“Boys smoke, drink alcohol, play cards do all sort of things in public spaces, no one seems to care or stop them”
“After 8 PM in the night, girls are not allowed to be in public spaces”
“I have observed that girls are taught and sent to colleges so that they can marry while boys study so that they can earn for their families”
“I don’t work at all in my home while my sister and others work”
“In schools, there are more boys than girls”
“I feel that there are lots of gender differences existing in the place I live in, but I never thought about it. This doesn’t feel right”
The next part of the session involved a conversation about gender and sexual identities- so I restated what sex is, what does doing sex means, what is gender? I thought its crucial for us to have discussion around intersex, they looked at me with a disbelief that such an identity could exist as well!! This was then followed by talking about Hizras, transgenders and homosexuals.
“So how does the sexual organ of a hizra look like?”
“Why do they force us to give them money?”
“How can a female and female have sex? Male and male sex? Is it possible”
“There must be some problem with the parents that a hizra is born to them?”
“If a parent comes to know that their child is hizra, can they keep them?”
“Didi, there lives a girl in our neighborhood, who keeps her hair short, has heavy voice and her gait is also like mine, is she a transgender?”
“My uncle told me that now hizras can also study in schools and colleges”
“Do these people exists only in India or even outside?”
“Do Hizras have breasts?”
“I have read in newspapers that Michael Jackson was a hizra or a transgender. Is that true?”
It was important to make them understand why do we engage in this discourse around gender and sexual identities.
“I think, for example if I am boy and I love boy but my parents don’t approve of my relationship then I have to marry a girl. It would be pressurizing for me, I won’t be living a real life”
“Can gays or lesbians marry? We need to talk about this so that all of us can live happily”
It was amazing to hear such diverse and out of the blue questions and insights coming from adolescents, I was blown over and I was happy that they are asking questions, accepting the knowledge, probably they won’t judge people and can contribute to make a better world to live in :-)