Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), a Delhi-based organisation is trying to encourage girls and women to participate more in the fields of science and technology. Here’s how.
It is a Wednesday evening. In the premises of an organisation named Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) located in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, 20 girls are huddled together, working on a science project. Facilitators in the room are ensuring everyone’s participation and answering occasional questions. The girls are from government schools in nearby areas and they gather here four days a week after school.
For these girls coming from underprivileged households, FAT’s Jugaad lab is a space that lets them explore the world of science — an area they are often kept away from.
“Gender discrimination and stereotypes are so prevalent in our society that they start conditioning a child’s mind even before she understands the meanings of the words gender or stereotype. Adding to the external situational circumstances that discourage a girl from taking up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects, there’s an intrinsic lack of confidence that we have observed in girls when it comes to science. We are trying to change this through Jugaad lab,” says Gayatri Buragohain, founder and executive director of FAT.
Gayatri founded FAT with the aim of encouraging girls and women to participate more in the STEM fields. The Jugaad lab tries to explore how hands-on STEM learning in a feminist environment can encourage and support girls to pursue these subjects. Jugaad lab was conceptualised in 2013 after the organisation conducted a study in five government schools and one private school in and around Lajpat Nagar. The study tried to find out the reasons why girls from an underprivileged background are dissuaded from choosing STEM courses – especially Science and Maths. The findings revealed that more often than not, girls find themselves unable to develop an interest or aptitude for STEM due to various factors like lack of moral and infrastructural support in schools, absence of role models, and parental pressure to drop out of education or to pursue fields like arts and home science that are considered more suited for girls.
“A majority of girls either don’t have access to basic technology such as phones and computers or are banned from using them. The reasons are multifold, but the real question is, how can girls and women have access to equal resources, opportunities and rights without access to technology?” asks Gayatri who is an electronics engineer herself.
The lab is a safe haven for the girls. Here they can tinker with, build, break and rebuild stuff to learn through experimentation. The lab also helps them understand the patriarchal structure and systematic discrimination that prevents them from accessing opportunities in the field of science and the ways to counter these challenges.
Although FAT wants the lab to be open for every girl who is interested, they have some selection criteria due to logistical issues.
“There’s no selection process based on IQ or marks or anything like that. The criteria are simple. The girl has to be from an underprivileged background. It is also important that she stays nearby. Our programme is quite intensive; we work for around 2-3 hours in the evening at least four days a week and commuting can be a problem if the girls stay far away. We prefer girls from Classes 6 to 10, as they are at a more impressionable age,” says Gayatri.
The first batch of Jugaad lab has completed a one-year curriculum, which consists of educational inputs, scientific experiments, and innovation projects.
The organisation will now enrol new girls for the same curriculum, while developing a more advanced syllabus for the students entering second year.
“We have seen positive results after the first year of the lab. I will tell you the story of one of our participants, Sanjana. The TV at her place stopped working one day and everyone thought of calling a mechanic to fix it. Sanjana checked the plug and saw that the wire connections inside were loose. She reconnected the wires and the TV started working again. Her parents were so impressed, they visited the lab and told us proudly about what their daughter had done. Incidents like these help us in getting the support of the parents,” says Gayatri.
Renuka Motihar, the chairperson of FAT, says, “At FAT, the girls are taught to shed their fear of technology and are introduced to the ideas of feminism. They are introduced to women role models, who have done tremendous work in the STEM fields. All of a sudden, an entirely new world opens up to them, and we dream of making it happen for every girl out there.”
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