Awareness Education

Build a culture of accountability

Freepik   | Photo Credit: Freepik

India is home to the largest population of adolescents in the world — approximately 243 million or roughly 20% of the country’s total population is between the ages of 10 and 19. With discrimination and social stigma attached to sexuality education in India, millions between the ages of 15 and 24 have limited knowledge of sexual and reproductive health, though a considerable proportion of this group is sexually active. This has led to problems like teenage pregnancy, lack of safe menstrual practices and child sexual abuse. A study conducted by the Ministry of Women & Child Development revealed that the majority of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by trusted individuals within families.

Due to stringent laws like the POCSO, and circulars and guidelines issued by CBSE in 2015 and 2017, educational institutions have to ensure no sexual harm comes to the students in their care, adolescents in India continue to face a number of challenges that are further compounded by failing criminal justice systems, inaccessible mental health mechanisms, lack of resources and infrastructure to support a survivor’s journey into healing, and societal structures that trap victims in shame and stigma. It therefore becomes critical for educational institutions to dismantle the structural inequalities inherent in our socio-cultural fabric that perpetuate the cycle of gender-based violence and the culture of rape and entitlement.

Prevention matters

Whether it be for basic human rights, domestic violence, or child sexual abuse, the goal for educational institutions should be to put in place measures that ensure any abusive behaviour is prevented before it occurs. They must invest time and resource into awareness drives and interventions that enable adolescents to learn about consent and personal boundaries. Equal attention is required to roll out such programmes for teachers and parents. Both are required to sensitised about the importance of unlearning their own sense of denial, silence, shame and stigma that surrounds any conversation around sex, sexuality and sexual violence. What is also important is to understand the appropriate response to disclosures of sexual abuse, which requires adults to listen and then validate the survivors’ experiences by believing them, reassuring them that it was not their fault, and and ensuring that they have access to resources and a safe space.

Recently, many schools have integrated legal studies into the high school curriculum. This is good as a first step. In order to prevent gender-based and sexual violence, it is important to know and understand the legal frameworks and definitions of violative behaviours. But for positive modelling, this curriculum needs to be further expanded to include gender, queer, and peace studies. This will enable students to unlearn internalised narratives of oppression, exclusion, suppression and domination in their formative years, and cultivate compassionate and inclusive mindsets.

Educational institutions can play a critical role in realising India’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG). Goal-oriented collaborative projects emerging from the integrated curriculum on inclusive studies could bring students from different schools onto the same platform around common social issues, thus instilling the sustained rigour required for accountable, result-oriented, socially responsible and inclusive actions. Diversity, inclusion, responsible sexuality, and laws would then cease to be notions and concepts, and acquire a practical application in the practice of everyday equality.

If educational institutions were to invest in such inclusive curriculums, awareness drives and collaborative interventions, they can build a brigade of skilled, empathetic and accountable young adults who can recognise, question and challenge systemic oppressions and structural violence; understand the nuances of conflict, harm and abuse; practice de-escalation and resolution in real-life scenarios; and are equipped with the knowledge on reporting procedures and the language to call out abusive behaviour.

The writer is Director-Communications of the NGO Sakshi.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 12:11:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-educational-institutions-can-build-a-culture-of-accountability-around-social-issues/article33929321.ece

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