The Government of Punjab, in association with the NGO Breakthrough and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab South Asia (J-PAL), has decided to include Breakthrough’s gender sensitisation curriculum in the syllabi for grades sixth, seventh, and eighth in the schools of Punjab operated and aided by the government.
The two-and-a-half-year curriculum to be implemented by the Department of School Education in the upcoming school year will attempt to transform dated gender attitudes and perceptions. The syllabus will be introduced in 4500 schools across the state. With 46,000 trained teachers, the curriculum is expected to reach an estimated six lakh students. The Department of School Education will take upon it the responsibility to train the teachers and familiarise them with the syllabi.
The outcomes for students and communities can be incredible. J-PAL-affiliated researchers conducted an evaluation in 314 schools of Haryana, where the curriculum was first introduced, to access and understand the impact of the gender sensitisation curriculum. Gender-equitable behaviour among students was found to be inculcated and a significant shift in the dated gender attitudes and perceptions of students was noticed.
After Haryana, Breakthrough’s curriculum was also introduced in Bihar, Jharkhand, and UP, allowing 200,000 children to receive gender-sensitisation education. The large-scale impact of the sustained enforcement of the curriculum can lead to favourable community outcomes that go a long way in changing, from the grassroots up, the realities of women and girls.
Sohini Bhattacharya, Breakthrough’s CEO, speaking of the introduction of the curriculum said, “Breakthrough is honoured to partner with the government of Punjab and J-PAL South Asia to bring about systemic and lasting change to how we address gender equality. Breakthrough, over the last 20 years has been working towards making violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. We know that gender perceptions get formed at a young age and therefore, we need to ensure that children, especially between the ages of 10-14 have access to the right information related to gender equality, legal rights, and healthy gender behaviours. The Taaron Ki Toli program aims to achieve this and has played a significant role in promoting gender-equitable behaviour among school children. With Breakthrough’s partnership with the government of Punjab, we will continue to make efforts to build a society that is fair, equitable and does not allow gender-based discrimination.”
Speaking of the necessity of the curriculum, J-PAL South Asia’s Executive Director, Shobhini Mukerji added, “Many gender gaps persist despite economic progress, making it important to intervene directly and early enough to change norms and attitudes in order to bring about a more gender-equal society. In uniting the Government of Punjab’s commitment to improving gender outcomes with Breakthrough’s expertise in developing programmes to change gender norms, this partnership offers tremendous potential to close the gender outcome gap by empowering every student with a gender-equitable mindset and the tools to act upon it.”
Since government school’s cater to a largely rural or economically weaker student base, the introduction of this curriculum becomes all the more necessary to inculcate gender-sensitive and progressive attitudes within communities that are patriarchal strongholds that witness increased incidences of sexist discrimination, oppressive practices, and violence against women. Women in rural India are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women residing in urban areas.
Further, women in rural India don’t just face increased incidences of economical poverty, but also informational property. Given all this, gender-sensitisation at the school level can go a long way in addressing these issues in the long-term by changing individual – and ultimately, familial and community – attitudes and practices for gender-equitable ones that will benefit, directly, millions of women and girls.
Real, sustainable change can only be brought on one way: from the grassroots up. If we educate our children, we educate an entire generation; an education that will have a lasting impact on generations to come. An education that can forever change the lives of millions of women and girls who continue to be silenced and pushed to the sidelines, who are denied an education; who are denied social oppurtunities, healthcare access, and economic security; who constantly live under the permanent threat of violence. This curriculum has the potential to generate unprecedented community outcomes that can reshape our violently patriarchal relationship with gender and can make equality and empowerment a reality for everyone, instead of just being abstract concepts that are out of the reach for a majority of women and girls everywhere.