In most schools girls are not encouraged to pursue “boys’ games”

Mary Kom may have excelled in boxing and Mithali Raj in cricket, but that has not bucked the trend of gender stereotyping in certain sports.

Girls studying in Delhi’s well known private schools, especially all-girls schools, are not encouraged to move out of the badminton, basketball, kho-kho mode to pursue games such as cricket and football -- considered to be ‘boys’ games’.

“It may be all right for girls to play basketball, badminton and take swimming lessons, but cricket, hockey and football are a no-no,” says Mamta Das, a parent.

It is not that they are restricted from playing games associated with boys, but they are simply not encouraged to take to these sports. It you don’t introduce a certain game to a child, how do you expect her to get interested in it, she asks.

While no school admits to practising segregation, gender inequality in the sports arena operates subtly. Lack of infrastructure is most often cited as a reason for not encouraging these sports, especially in all-girls schools.

A student who recently passed out from Loreto Convent School says: “I don’t think they are denying us girls from playing any game, but the school just does not have the infrastructure or required fields to play certain games.”

The school, however, has national level teams in basketball and kho-kho, games that authorities say girls “like to play”.

Another student from Lady Sri Ram College who passed out from Convent of Jesus & Mary says: “We had badminton, table tennis, volleyball, and basketball. Later lawn tennis was also introduced. Though some of us were interested, we did not have the facilities to play cricket or football. During recess, we used to improvise on the game and play by ourselves. The all-boys St. Columba’s opposite our school allows them to play most games including football because they have a huge field and infrastructure to facilitate it,” she says, reiterating however that there was no gender discrimination in her school.

The story at many of the co-educational schools is no different. Head of Department for Sports Veena Seth at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, told The Hindu: “We don’t stop girls from playing any game, but if they are not naturally inclined to play certain games, what can we do? Girls like to play table tennis, chess, basketball, swimming, skating, badminton and tennis, while boys play all these games and cricket also.”

Not encouraging girls at a young age in certain sports poses problems at the college level and limits women from representing the country in these sports. Dr. Sheela Kumari, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Education at Gargi College, Delhi University, says that there is total apathy towards sports in schools.

“Most of the girls we get under the sports quota are self trained in stadia or clubs and do not come from the school system. Those that we do get from schools are not very good,” she says, emphasising that schools need to get their act together and impart basic training “while at the college level we take on the task to polish those skills”.

Around 30 girls joined Gargi College this year under the sports quota. In co-ed colleges under Delhi University, the ratio of boys to girls in admissions under the sports quota is skewed, but the trend is slowly reversing with applications from girls gradually increasing, she says.

However, colleges are trying to make up for this lacuna. Colleges such as Gargi, Lakshmibai, Daulat Ram, Bharati, Jesus & Mary and Indira Gandhi Institute of Physical Education have all-girls cricket teams, while Kamla Nehru has girls’ teams for football and boxing.

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