Shipra is a new volunteer at People for Parity, who has offered her time between IIM-A and her next job to contribute to the work and cause of gender based violence prevention. Read about her experience at a PfP workshop in Alwar, Rajasthan..
As I furtively typed a “Yes, I am in” for the workshop little did I know the experience will turn out to be more enriching than what I had hoped for or imagined. Despite hearing about instances of gender based violence (GBV), we go on about our everyday life oblivious to them, hoping that they didn’t happen to someone we knew. And one day, it dawns upon you that you have been a victim all along. Battling lewd comments and dressing “appropriately” has become a way of life; running away and avoiding confrontation is the reflex action instead of striking back. When I was told about PfP, a group of like-minded people trying to create gender parity by reaching out and sensitizing youth about GBV, I was sure I wanted to get involved.
While the city still slept, the eight of us set out on an early Saturday morning to conduct a workshop for the 100 odd students at the IET College, Alwar. Some games, music, brainstorming sessions and three hours later, we arrived at the college bustling with energy inherent only to places with lots of young people full of ideas, hope and desire to make a difference.
The students were divided in groups of 25 and each group had a facilitator and a co-facilitator. The students were wary of giving a good chunk of their day to “another” lecture which was expected to be longer than the rest. However, ten minutes into the ice breaker sessions, all of them were engaged and cheering on as their fellow mates fouled in split-splat and answered questions in speed dating. The “Chinese Whispers” session followed and most of the students had an “oh-i-never-thought-like-that” look by the end of it. The fact that most of what was said was convoluted beyond imagination within span of minutes set in motion some sort of thinking as Aditya prodded them to analyse how gender definitions and roles and identities must have garbled over centuries and through generations.
This session was followed by the question “Key messages for the gender” wherein participants had to discuss three messages they were told since their childhood as a part of their gender. The answers varied from “need to be responsible for the family” for guys to “be a nice good girl and don’t talk to boys” for girls. A healthy interaction between opposite genders was frowned upon in most cases and many students described different roles for their siblings of opposite sex. Though you would not expect this from educated parents, one could see how deeply these roles have been ingrained in people and how the so-called “social values” dictated not only their lives but their dreams and aspirations as well, stifling them in most cases. The next session allowed participants to discuss gender differences in different contexts such as family, relationships, work and leisure. Students also got a chance to voice their opinion about differences they see at a community level. “Talking from I” was an eye-opener for many as students started analysing that a lot of gender-based statements are hearsay and not exactly what they have experienced. This helped many to at least realise the existence of a cocoon which has been guiding their behaviour and outlook towards the opposite sex. A lot of students said they never had an opportunity to talk about these issues till date and were glad to be given a platform.
The idea behind conducting this workshop was to urge students to discover the GBV happening around them and challenge it in their own small ways. Be it standing up for siblings or treating co-workers and fellow students with respect, the workshop aimed at “starting with self”. It’s high time we stop underestimating the depth and effect of our everyday interactions. Only when we start looking beyond the gender of the people, do we actually start treating them as humans rather than men and women.
As we packed our bags to leave, many students crowded around facilitators to understand how they can further work towards this cause. It gave me immense hope that in a country where newspapers are choc-a-bloc with stories of GBV, our generation and the ones following us are willing to change and actively take steps in that direction.