Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Understanding gender in one’s life: Teachers in Hisar reflect in their lives!

“I was more like a tomboy, used to go out, do whatever I feel like while growing up, never really faced or heard anything that I should be doing or not doing because I am a girl. But everything changed within 10 days just before the marriage. All the freedom and my joy of flying like a free bird was crushed, I experienced and were constantly reminded of the things be it as minute as walking of being a girl. ” shared one of the teachers

For a gender equitable society, it is very crucial to intervene at every sphere and every segment of society, with this thought Sahas constantly engages with Police, women, teachers and other institutions along with the adolescents on gender, sexuality and reproductive health being center of our work. This time we got an opportunity to engage with the teachers of Siddharth International School and St. Kabir’s school in Hisar where we implemented our “Gender sensitization and capacity building program”

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. This was followed by the participants introducing themselves and one unique quality which they wish to share with the larger group. In order to gather their complete attention, energy and enthusiasm, we did “Ungli Dance”, it went really well because few teachers immediately volunteered to do the next round of the energizer. 

A discourse was initiated on agreements needed to build safe sharing space for the two days since engaging on gender would involve not only in reflecting in their lives but also sharing of personal experiences. In the first activity, the participants were invited to pick a chit which had roles and responsibilities written; then they were told to form two separate lines based on the work mostly/should/considered as to be done by man and the other by woman. In the second step of the activity they were asked to form three queues – first where this particular work can be done by only man, second where the work can be done only by woman and third by both. This activity is very simple yet very crucial because from here we start to question gender roles and responsibilities. It was interesting to see the discussion flow as to how “nurse” can be both male and female, “help desk” can be monitored both by male and female etc. 

At the end- there was just one participant standing in female queue because she got a chit with “getting pregnant” written on it, while there was none in male queue and everyone in “Both” queue. Also an important point about “having beard and hairs on various parts of the body” came up where one of the participants gave an example of a sikh lady with facial hairs, quoting this she said that there is nothing a male can do which can’t be done by woman.

For the second activity, the participants were divided into 5 groups where each of them were invited to share “3 key messages they have received being a boy or a girl” in their respective group followed by sharing the important points in the larger circle. Immediately after the facilitator’s sharing of her own personal experience, one of the teachers shared, “when I was very young, I gave lift to my friend on scooty. Her brother saw us, and thought that she is with a boy (may be thinking that girls can’t drive). On reaching home, her brother not only scolded her for driving with a boy but also slapped her. The situation took a weird turn when her family actually called at my home to confirm that the person (me) is a girl and not a boy”

Some of the key messages shared-
“After marriage, all the changes for example- lifestyle, clothes etc are just for women, men don’t have to change anything”

“Women have no identity of their own; it’s always associated with someone else”

“There is a strong restriction on the age at which a girl should get married, early marriages are preferred for girls, people think girls would get too old and no one would marry her”

 “A girl is always taunted if something goes wrong, but hardly appreciated if they do something well”

“We are always told to dress up, do make up and groom ourselves to look presentable”

“It is always told that the girls should always maintain physical distance from boys, clinging on boy’s shoulder and even accidentally touching is frowned upon”

“Girls shouldn’t speak about periods with their fathers or with brothers and while menstruating we are told not to go in front of them”

“I was always reminded that I should be back early in the evening- if I wished to go for a movie – then series of questions followed like which movie? When? Where? With whom you are going?”

“It is considered okay if you speak with someone on phone for about 2-4 minutes, but as the duration increases, there are questions raised and an obvious dislike is shown in verbal or non-verbal way”

“In Vrindawan, we have lot of fairs during the year, but there is huge crowd, and many a times, boys just touch us inappropriately. We can’t scream, can’t catch them and definitely can’t tell parents because in that case they would just prohibit us from going to these fairs”

“These messages are very clear when we are growing up. Boys and girls play together- in case they get sweaty or dirty, boys can easily pull out shirts, but girls can’t or even if their hands go near the hemp, their mothers throw angry glares as if they are doing the most wrong thing in the world”

“Whenever rotis are made, the last roti is always given to women, and interestingly if there are 2 rotis left, the one which is at the bottom will be given to the girl and the one above would be given to the boy”

“I was always told about the clothes that I can wear which is essentially suit salwar, then where I could go or not go, with whom I can go or not go because I am a girl”

“Also, there are times when parents don’t restrict but people living in our neighborhood keep taunting and poking. For example- once in my college, for particular assignment one of my classmate who is a boy came to my PG, my parents didn’t actually question however my neighbors made a ruckus of the situation”

“I have always seen that all types of restrictions are posed to girls however I saw nothing of this sort on my brother”

“My marriage was just fixed and all the preparations were going on. When I came to my house by scooty, I saw my brother in law with gifts, we just exchanged smiles and hardly spoke. The same guy went back and told my mother in law that I won’t be good daughter in law, probably won’t even obey them.”

“A girl is always told to compromise everywhere, with everyone and at everyplace. So whenever they say the society has changed- I beg to disagree because we still have to make compromises”

“So me and my husband both work, but when he comes back, he doesn’t even keep his back rather I am expected to offer him a glass of water”

“Women are always judged by the clothes they wear”

“Our all decisions are made by the male members of the family be it father, brother or husband, and whenever we try to do so, we are not only looked down upon but also accused on our characters”

“At times, I even wonder why I was born as a girl.”

“We are always made to feel less important, restricted to household work, after marriage women are told not to share problems in their parental home”

“Keep yourself covered, you can’t go alone with friends for trips”

“Our professional choices are restricted to teachers, receptionist or something where we can come back and do household chores as well”

“Many of us don’t even have our own bank accounts or personal savings”

“We are always told what to do and what not to irrespective of the fact that we are at the receiving end of the violence why nobody tells boys to learn basic human values”

Interestingly in this activity, one of the group introduced themselves as “Bold betiyaan” and shared where they fought back discrimination and inappropriate touch
“I did my education Darjeeling, where I had to attend night classes. So I had to travel via bus so I had to be strong enough to fight this fear of being touched or feeling less powerful”

“I was traveling with my cousin in bus. It was an overnight journey. A person tried to make undue advances towards her, so not only I slapped him but also handed him over to police”

“Our lab attendant made an advance towards us in exchange of better marks in practical. We got really scared and then we complained about him to higher authority. Afterwards he threatened us by saying he would make sure that we would fail. But I didn’t give up and stand for what seemed right at that moment”

Another interesting aspect of this workshop was that we had 29 women participants and a single male teacher; hence whenever a woman shared her messages or personal experience, he took everything on himself and hence was becoming defensive even after enormous efforts to make him feel part of the workshop.

So he said, “I have a daughter whom I love more than my life, I keep her as diamond, and my boy as iron because my daughter is delicate and I will do everything in power to save her, and I provide everything whatever she needs. So please don’t feel that these are restrictions because your parents don’t want to discriminate you, they want to protect you!”

Again there is a thin line here, before I could say anything a female teacher replied, “Then we should let diamonds shine and not keep them in safe!”

One of the teacher shared, “I was traveling in shared auto and I noticed that the auto driver is constantly staring at me, I was getting uncomfortable. I got angry and confronted him. After that I left and didn’t pay him a penny. My marriage was fixed and all the preparations was going on. But after few days my in laws broke the marriage because one of the relatives of my in laws was sitting in the same auto with whom I fought! However my husband came and said that I want to marry a strong girl like her”

Then with the help of Chinese whispers (which was very hilarious as two sentences got constricted into 2 words) and gender story, we established the definition of gender, how it is reflected in our lives and what we could do to challenge the gender norms and roles.

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