From locker rooms to classrooms

Various educational interventions will enable us to move towards gender equality

August 12, 2020 12:15 am | Updated 01:47 am IST



Instances of non-consensual sharing of images online to threaten and shame girls and women have raised serious questions about the mindsets of not only boys but of all youngsters, and their use of social media. Public opinion has pointed the finger at the growing and sometimes nefarious influence of technology. A quick fix of deactivating social media handles or deleting so-called provocative photos is often the most common response to such situations. However, this does not address the real problem.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges that women face. The National Commission for Women has reported a surge in domestic violence and cybercrimes, which has made girls and women more vulnerable as they struggle to fight another pandemic of violence and abuse inside their homes and online.

Also read | Achieving gender equality

Against this background, UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA and the South Asia Foundation joined hands recently to support Nandita Das in the production and launch of the short film Listen to Her . We hope this will contribute to breaking the stigma around the issue and encourage women to speak up and seek help.

Various initiatives

Young minds are malleable and therefore a concerted effort must be made to shape positive mindsets at this critical age. As the boundary between the real and the virtual world becomes increasingly blurred, the perceived risks increase. For those looking to prevent and counter cyberbullying, UNESCO’s information booklet, ‘Safe online learning in times of COVID-19’, can also be a useful reference. The booklet, developed in partnership with the National Council of Educational Research and Training, supports the creation of safe digital spaces and addresses nuances of privacy, especially in the current context.

We also need to engage with school communities, civil society organisations and governments to define alternatives for pre-existing norms of masculinities. One such initiative, the ‘Action for Equality’ programme, driven by our partner the Equal Community Foundation, has already trained over 130 educators across India on how to engage boys to achieve gender equality through educational interventions. At the core of this initiative is a community-based behavioural change programme designed to provide young boys with the skills and knowledge they need to challenge existing gender norms and take action to end violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Also read | Say bye to gender bias

Many more schools should adopt School-Related Gender-based Violence programmes and curricula, so that conversations can move out of the locker room and emerge as healthy discussions in the classroom. The ground-breaking National Education Policy 2020 provides historic opportunities to shape the educational response to these challenges for decades to come. Ultimately, societies across the world must sensitise children and young women and men towards understanding the repercussion of their choices and guide them towards a more sound actualisation of their own individualities.

Message from movements

From Riot Grrrl to #MeToo and other actions, it is fairly evident that the global movements towards gender equality and the eradication of violence against women are here to stay and hopefully to grow. One of the most important lessons to be drawn from these movements is that change can be effected through peaceful means when people come together to confront the dominant social norms. Just as the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis demand interconnectedness, the challenge of gender inequality too is a battle that cannot be fought in silos.

The pandemic is hopefully a gateway between the current world and the next and in our quest to get back to normal, let us reconsider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. It would be a wasted opportunity if we campaign in poetry but conduct ourselves in prose in Year 1 AC: After Coronavirus.

Eric Falt is the Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka

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