These women are bringing discussions on gender into Indian classrooms in order to end discrimination.
Shreena Thakore and Ria Vaidya met each other for the first time as undergraduate students at Brown University in the U.S. During the first week, before classes officially started, all the students had to undergo a pre- orientation programme.
During this time, they spoke about their lives, cultural differences, etc. Ria chose to study neuroscience at the university while Shreena took up computer science and comparative literature as her majors.
During the discussions, Shreena and Ria realised many of their experiences and concerns were similar, probably because they both grew up in India.
Friendship blossomed between the two girls. They would often meet and discuss the issue of gender discrimination in India. In their final year of college, they decided to do something about this issue.
What started as a semester-long project on gender sensitisation workshops in India has now become a full-fledged movement – No Country For Women.
“When I was 10 years old, a swimming pool was coming up near our place. I was very excited. But my grandmother told me I couldn’t swim as I would get tanned. And this would reduce my prospects of getting married,” says Shreena.
Knowingly or unknowingly, her grandmother was enforcing a certain gender stereotype. This is very common in a country where men and women are always told to behave a certain way. Boys in India, for instance, are often told “you need to man up.” Similarly, females may be told: “Girls shouldn’t be so loud!” The division between men and women becomes pronounced as soon as children hit puberty.
“Any form of questioning is forbidden. We were made to internalise these double standards in the name of tradition, religion, and culture,” says Anushka Jadhav, Managing Director of No Country For Women.
Hoping to change these strongly rooted gender norms and the culture of victim blaming, No Country For Women wants to start a dialogue. The organisation aims to make people understand how they subconsciously reinforce gender stereotypes.
Shreena and Ria are also trying to bridge the gap between academia (where theories on gender violence are explored in detail) and activism (where people are actually trying to bring in change).
Through the workshops they hold, these young women want to enable the youth to challenge patriarchal mindsets that affect both men and women.
They offer gender‐based interactive sessions, workshops, guest lectures, and content and learning material to schools, colleges, corporates, and other institutions.
The modules are created to cater to the specific needs of every institution. Before each session, they collect information through questionnaires and conversations. In the sessions, they cover topics like gender and space, healthy consent, language and gender, etc.
So far, No Country For Women has managed to reach out to more than 6,750 individuals across 45 institutions, in more than 15 cities in the country. The core team has also been invited to speak at various panels and conferences.
Talking to students about sexuality and sexual crimes is not always easy. Often, school administrations face a lot of pressure from parents to stay away from ‘taboo’ topics.
This makes it difficult for the team to effectively conduct sessions that require unlearning of social taboos, introspection, and critical analysis of social structures. However, they consider themselves lucky to have encountered progressive administrations in most schools.
One of the biggest challenges for the team has been to get people to accept that they are part of the problem too.
“We cannot arrive at a solution until we have accurately identified the problem of gender-based prejudice. This involves questioning our own thoughts, beliefs and actions, which isn’t easy to do. We have all grown up in the same society and we all have problematic biases and prejudices that need to be tackled, in order to combat gender discrimination. Getting people to identify and unlearn years of ingrained gender roles and stereotypes is one of our main challenges,” says Anuskha.
In fact, the team says they always encounter at least one person in the audience who dissociates himself from the problem by saying, “We get it. But you should go talk to the illiterate people. They are the ones who rape.”
To address the issue of gender discrimination, No Country For Women has evolved a ‘3-D’ philosophy.
Workshop participants are encouraged to deconstruct sociocultural, political and economic institutions to evaluate the ways in which they condone gender‐based discrimination and violence. They are also asked to develop effective long-term solutions by tackling the institutions that sanction gender discrimination.
No Country For Women is funded by global fellowships, grants, individual and corporate donations, crowd funding, and paid services.
The organisation aims to bring gender into the classrooms and make gender education part of the curriculum.
“If educational spaces equipped individuals with the conceptual tools and introspective analysis necessary to evaluate the social world around them, they would be able to bring that impact into the institutions they later join and thus contribute to a slow process of social change. That’s exactly where our intervention lies,” Anushka says.
The organisation is currently working on developing modules for teachers, aimed at inclusive gender education in the classroom. It is also experimenting with different mediums through which people can be educated about gender – videos, comic strips, and theatre events.
They can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org