My name is Chandrajeet, and I am a teacher in a school in Alwar, Rajasthan. As a teacher, I am expected to know a lot, almost be infallible. I write this letter to show that despite being a teacher myself, I am still learning myself; learning new perspectives, new dimensions, and correcting my own view-points. Girl Rising, in its endeavour to raise the value of the girl child, works closely with varying stakeholders such as adolescent members, parents, community leaders, schools amongst others. My school is one such school that routinely engages with Girl Rising. During one of these interactions, they’d planned a couple of sports events in the courtyard of the school, and told us to that girls and boys can also play a sport together. Upon hearing this, I shifted in my chair with a feeling of discomfort. I began thinking to myself, how can that be possible when girls and boys have never played together here or participated in an activity together. When their behaviours, natural instincts, physicality are inbred and so different from one another, then how can they be playing a sport together? My colleagues, other teachers, also shared my concerns which led to discussion on gender. Admittedly, I did not understand much.
A few days later, Girl Rising organised a Gender Sensitisation workshop for government school teachers in our village. I attended this workshop with minimal understanding of ‘gender’ and how it manifests itself. Little did I know that after attending this workshop, my perspective on gender was in for a sea change.I learned that girls can do as much as boys if they are allowed the same environment and same opportunities from the start. The limits and limitations of girls are dictated by the society, and if we, who make this society, are determined to bring about a change, then this perception can be broken down. Through this workshop, I realised that the tasks we assign to our students can be gendered too. The perpetuation of these tasks leads to the manifestation of many stereotypes- stereotypes that prevent girls from accessing opportunities equally. When I began to introspect, I realised that I had been, unintentionally, furthering stereotypes. I discussed this with my colleagues, and all of us felt that it was important to address these issues, and we jointly began integrating some gender-focused discussions in our work-plans. As our first task, we had a gender centric discussion with the students where we not only created more awareness, but also encouraged them to question practices. We, then, began to make joint teams of boys and girls to help with school activities. Initially, the task of maintaining cleanliness, and reading out the prayer in the morning assembly was the sole responsibility of the girls. My colleagues and I decided that we must alter this, and began asking boys to participate equally in these tasks. Only boys would play cricket in school, but this time we invited girls to play cricket too. Joint teams of girls and boys were formed, and they played cricket together for the first time! In the past, boys were invariably made the team leaders of school activities. With a new understanding of gender, we ensured that girls too were made team leaders in the same measure. When these new opportunities were given to girls, their enthusiasm and happiness knew no bounds. We felt a sense of pride in playing our role in bringing about equality.
All us teachers felt it was imperative to keep educating and sensitising more people about gender. We called a School Management Committee meeting wherein we also invited community members to discuss our learnings from the gender sensitisation workshop. At first, some of them resented, while some saw some merit in what we were advocating for. As a discussion ensued, beliefs, stereotypes, and misconceptions withered away, and a renewed focus on enabling opportunities for girls was arrived at. From one school to another, we began highlighting the need for gender sensitisation workshops for other teachers too. After many conversations and discussions, teachers across the board, agreed that change begins with awareness generation. As beacons of knowledge, we would like to create change by openly discussing these issues with students.
I hope these conversations snowball into change that gives girls and boys the same opportunities to excel. Dear Students, on Teachers’ Day, I promise to keep learning and to passing on my knowledge to my students to the best of my capabilities.