Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Enagaging with the teachers of Naoshera, Jammu on "Gender in my life"

The beginning of the year 2018 has been incredible, inspiring and full of happy surprises for Sahas Foundation. We kick started our second new program “Gender sensitization and capacity building” with the teachers of the rural government schools at Naoshera Tehsil, Jammu in collaboration with Naoshera Brigade in the month of April. 

The twin objective of the two day workshop included building understanding of gender, gender based violence and need for comprehensive sexuality education and then capacity building of the teachers on the same lines so that they can co-create gender sensitive safe classrooms for the school students particularly for the adolescents in their respective schools. 

The workshop began with the brief introduction of Sahas, our work so far and need of gender intervention with the teacher along with the plan for the two day workshop.  In order to bring their energy and attention fully to the session, we invited them to play “Ungli Dance” which went pretty well as one of the teacher volunteered to repeat the game as well. Since the workshop is interactive, activity based and involves sharing from the personal experiences, so we engaged upon four basic agreements for co-creating safe sharing spaces.

The participants were then invited to share their name and one good quality about themselves with the larger circle. This was followed by ‘chit activity’ where-in each participant were given a chit (where gender roles, responsibilities and stereotypes were written) and then they were asked to form two separate line based on which is done mostly/commonly performed by men or women, then in the next step they were invited to form 3 line- one with solely done by men, another – solely by women and the last – things which can be done by both. Interestingly the conversations on the last step resulted in leaving one person (can get pregnant) remained in the women’s line, one in men (have beard) and rest in the “Can be done by both”  

This was followed by dividing the participants into 6 groups wherein they were invited to share 3 messages they have received being a man or a woman, and then share in the larger groups. It was interesting to see that the teachers were sharing their childhood experiences though ideally they could have shared their recent experiences. This also reflected how these messages have deep imprints on their consciousness as they seem still fresh in their memories. Also the workshop seemed like house on fire, it was like a class who was tied up for a long time and then someone let them loose – they were having fun and at the same time they were feeling alive and safe to share their experiences. Generally, this activity involve just stating the messages but the participants actually went ahead and they shared very crucial and intimidating personal experiences- 

“When I was young, I used to go with my brother. But on one day it was raining and we shared umbrella and after that day he never went with me, either he left early or late. It’s merely because people would talk about us”
“In my school, I was punished and a senior of mine slapped me hard. I was taken aback, nobody ever hit me like that, so I cried badly but then I was slapped again and then again, and it continued till I stopped crying. He said he was teaching me a lesson that boys shouldn’t cry by making me strong, by slapping me”
“In our school, we were taken to a place for picnic, we had lot of fun. But unlike boys, girls were not allowed to go for boating. Our teacher said that the boys can manage themselves, if girls get hurt then what will happen to them in future, she has to keep us safe”

"I was never into wearing jewelry or fancy clothes, but after marriage i am always told to put sindoor, wear bangles and colorful saree by people living around me. So once in the school i was sitting in the staff room when one of the teacher came and said that it’s not right for a married woman not have sindoor. After saying this, she put the sindoor on my head. Now also i don't understand what the necessity of having these symbols is

“While submitting documents during board exams, my surname was not written correctly. When we went to get it corrected, the Principal of the school stated that the surname will obviously change after her marriage so why pay so much heed! And till now i have my name without a surname”  
“I used to like wearing loose clothes, so I used to wear salwar with Kurta, and I was told that I shouldn’t wear clothes like women”

“I wanted to be in Army, so I joined NCC, my dad furiously stopped me from joining. And then when I refuse to hear him out, he said it’s going to be really hard for you and as a girl you won’t be able to do it so you will leave it on your own”
“Girls shouldn’t use mobile phones, girls should get married early, they should study much”
“I wanted to become an air hostess, I got selected too and at the same time I got engaged to the one I love. But for the training, I was needed to sign a 5 year bond which said that I shouldn’t be marrying for next 5 years, my fiancĂ© agreed but then in-laws and my own parents kept pressurizing me to give up training, and at the end I couldn’t resist the pressure and I gave up”
“My husband was teaching me driving, but somehow I couldn’t get it right. He got frustrated and said that you woman can only make rotis, do household work and this is not your cup of tea. I didn’t like this so I took the challenge and I started to learn driving and within 2 days I tried in various vehicles. And then on the third day, I asked him if I can drive with him, he refuted saying that you can’t drive but I proved him that I can!”

“Girls shouldn’t speak loudly; they can’t take their own decisions”
“Like any other kid, I was very curious about what my name means. I was told that my name means a certain goddess, but when my sister was born my dad was devasted and really unhappy because 2 daughters means double burden so he named her Seema meaning a border so no more daughters are born to them, and then my brother was named Deepak meaning someone who would take our family’s name ahead”
“There is always so much gossip if male and female teacher sit together even if they are discussing something related to students”

“There was this girl who was being absent for a long time, I called her parents and told them if she doesn’t come, we would remove her name. I was shocked when her father said that remove her name immediately so that she can do household work”
“I used to study in co-ed school but even then, it was an unsaid rule that girls would go from inner road and boys would go from outer road”
“I was interested in various school activities like debates but I was always told to play sports without thinking I may or may not be interested”
“In a college interview, instead of asking my interests or qualifications, I was asked whether I engage in fracas or do I beat around guys because of my strong build”
“When I distributed sweets when my daughter was born, people were surprised and asked me all sort of questions”

“We were studying in Nanital, one day me and my Sikh friend went for a walk. He had washed his head and he had pretty long hairs. People were looking at us weirdly, and then he pulled his hairs backwards. One of the kids shouted saying how aunty is having beard?”
“I am pregnant and every now and then people keep blessing me to have a baby boy. There is so much restrictions on my food, depending on food people keep guessing whether I will have a boy or girl. There is so much pressure on me, I am so scared to even have a baby”
“I am alcoholic, because right from the childhood, I thought being a man I should be drinking.”
“Girls can’t digest any secrets, boys- girls can’t be friends”
“My wife wanted to be in police, so she filled up police constable form. I encouraged her, we used to practice together, and then people started saying all sorts of things like do you want to make your wife a man? why are you making her run? Do you want to sit and eat from her salary. This made me angry and I blamed her for all the insulted. I feel bad now but I succumbed to societal pressure and didn’t let her attend the exam”
“I could have completed my graduation from Pune, but Papa got retired so I also have to leave and come back with him. As a girl, I was not allowed to live in different city”
“During the festival of Holi, girls were locked in hostel rooms”
“Boys should be bold, why are you behaving like girl being shy is not being a boy”
“Don’t cry like girls, boys and girls should sit separately, girls are always given responsibility for welcoming dignitaries, boys shouldn’t have long hairs, talking too much or gossiping is girl’s way”
“Arts and social sciences are subjects for girls, boys should always lead and girls should always follow”

This session went in a very different way where most of the teacher ended up sharing their experiences associated with the messages they had received.

“When I was told about this training, I thought it would be some sort of lecture based. I am glad that it turned out like this, because in so many years I have never felt so energetic, relived and have got this space to share things which was there in me but I didn’t know how to talk about it. I feel proud that I am a woman and I could share my views here”

Through the game of Chinese whispers and gender story, we engaged in defining gender, gender roles and gender stereotypes. At this point, we also talked about gender and sexual identities. Against all our apprehensions, one of the teachers shared, “I am so glad you told us about sexual identities in details, because there is so much talk going about this, there are lot of taboos and judgments around homosexuality, I didn’t know all this. Now that I know, I can talk about it with people around me and my students so that these wrong notions can be stopped”  

In the last part of the session, the participants were divided into 6 different groups and were allotted one of the spaces out of the following 6 - Home, Media, Religion, Education, Workplace and Public spaces. They were invited to discuss and share what gender differences they see in the given spaces. Some of the important reflections are as follows-


“Women engage in household chores like cooking food, washing clothes, cleaning home”

“They are restricted to their homes, if they go out, there should be a definite purpose for that”

“There are restrictions on with whom they will go out, at what time, about the clothes they wear”

“Attending guests, arrangements of party, responsibility during festival celebrations”

“All the fasts have to be kept by women, especially like Karwachauth where they keep fast for long life of their husbands”

“There is restriction on women in terms of entering kitchen or holy places if they are having periods”

“Responsibility of earning money for family, protector role to the family, decision maker, infrastructural responsibilities are on Men”


“If you see movies or television serials, women are shown weak as compared to men, they are always on full make up adhering to beauty norms or being feminine”

“Advertisements also shown women as objects, using them to promote beauty products”

“For soft stories or entertainment, we have women anchors while for political or crime news, male anchors are there”


“Temples, gurudwaras, church and all religious places have men as priests”

“There are certain temples with deities like Hanuman ji where girls are not allowed to go”

“In Islam, women are not allowed to do namaj in Majid”

“Cremation ceremony is performed by male members of family”

“During menstruation, girls can’t enter in holy/religious places”

“In some religious prayers, women have to dress up in certain way- like Burkhas for Muslim women, or in Hindu where women should have veil on their head”

“In Hindus, all the ceremonial rituals are performed by men”


“Girls are married early rather than letting them go for higher education”

“Girls have to do household work along with studies because of which their studies are affected”

“Girls are constantly advised to take subjects like Arts or home sciences so that they don’t have to invest extra time for practical”

“There is different dress code for girls and boys even if it is KV, private or government school”

“Boys are called scouts and girls are called guide which is also point of discrimination”

“Boys preferred to go out for higher education but not girls”


“If there is a work that involves going out- male teachers are preferred”

“Females are given more leaves and easily as compared to Male staff”

“Non-availability of bathrooms is an issue for females because male easily do that anywhere”

“Whenever it is about spending money, it’s always on male staff”

Public spaces-

“Girls are seen less in public spaces, they are dictated as to how to conduct their selves in terms of how to walk, what to wear, timings. They can’t walk hand in hand, can’t smoke, can’t sit alone, not to speak loudly, can’t feed their baby, there are chances of molestation, lack of toilets”

“Drivers are mostly men, in public spaces females are heard more if they complain of any mishap, there are so many concessions for females”

These six spaces form most part of our lives, it won’t be wrong to say that they are integral part of our life deeply impacting it. Hence taking the cues from the discussion, patriarchy was explained with the emphasis as to how it affects not only women but also men on larger way leading to the problem of inequality and causing imbalance in the society in an undesirable way. 

“I don’t know how I am feeling right now. It’s like my world has become upside down, all this discussions is making me question whatever I have learnt over course of my life. I didn’t mean to do any kind of discrimination but I feel guilty of my actions. I need to make changes, this is not something right and it needs to be rectified, I am so thankful for this session” said a 40 plus teacher.

And all I could feel was “We are on right track.”

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