On my thirteenth birthday my father gave me a card that said “Happy Birthday Son.” Thinking he probably hadn’t read it through, I let it pass as an honest mistake. It is only now, having ‘grown up’ and been bombarded with ‘reality’ – that differences between men & women go beyond just simple biology – I realize the beauty and strength of what my father was trying to say. It also saddens me to think that he felt the need to call me a ‘son’ and just the term ‘daughter’ did not suffice.
As I reflect some more, the need to take back this gender equality grows stronger and this is what has led me to People for Parity. An amazing group, driven to challenge the ‘norms’ of gender today, PfP aims to promote gender equality by reaching as many young people as possible. A way in which they do this is through workshops in schools & colleges and it is one such workshop I was recently a part of at a Government School in Alwar.
We started off from Delhi early on a Saturday morning and a couple of hours, along with a few chai & kachoris, later we reached the school in Alwar. What struck me first was the lack of infrastructure and simultaneously, the abundance of hope. A few hundred students studied in the open field under the winter sun and looked at us expectantly – the didis & bhaiyyas from the metropolitan city of Delhi.
For ease of facilitation we split up a hundred 9th and 10th graders into three groups and I was amazed at how they remained engaged throughout. The essence of PfP’s workshop model lies in its simplicity – with fun energizers (‘Toast Toast’ is a crowd favorite!), role plays, discussions and quizzes, the facilitators help break stereotypes & generate awareness through fun, games and conversation. The students felt completely at ease and willingly shared their own challenges, hopes & dreams – a girl spoke of having to give up her passion for sword fighting, another spoke of her aspiration of becoming a doctor and yet more spoke of pursuing careers outside of their hometown.
It was encouraging to find more girls than boys in a batch of 40 and each one as determined to study further & support her family. The boys on the other hand were more sensitized than I had expected, with almost all helping with housework, very much aware of compromises their own mothers had made. As I spoke to them I realized that while there was an acceptance of today’s cruel reality – with no one able to escape the litany of murder, rape and innumerable crimes reported by the local media – there was a drive, not only to challenge the gender equation but a tangible approach on how to do it, with sufficient awareness of the opportunities being provided by the government. While we have a long way to go as a country, I was truly happy to see these opportunities being utilized.
The 3 hour long workshop culminated in a set of fun action projects the students chose, adding their own voice to the cause of gender equality. Projects included a mixed team cricket match, a play on street harassment and a mixed group dance performance which captured their own views, experiences and learnings. The response from the school was overwhelming and each of the projects went off successfully over the course of the next month.
As the workshop ended and groups broke up, the girls waited to speak to me. They had never-ending questions, some more difficult than others and I did my best to guide them toward an answer. What struck me most was the inherent stubbornness of these fourteen & fifteen year olds to attend school despite the fact that almost all of them battled lewd comments, whistling and letching as they made their way to and fro. This drove me closer to PfP’s cause for if the next generation is so aware of and willing to change the society we live in, then doesn’t that make it my responsibility, more now than ever, to lay the stepping stone?