When I was first introduced to science in my early years, I was beyond fascinated. As a child with burning questions still figuring out the world, science gave me a chance to find answers to some of those questions. I would look forward to science class at school, and it was one of the few classes I genuinely enjoyed.
However, as I grew older and entered middle school, I found my interest in the subject, as well as my grades, begin to dwindle. Upon further introspection, it dawned on me that it was also happening to my female friends, but my male friends were still just as participative and just as interested in class as earlier.
A couple of years later, while deciding which subjects to choose for the last two years of my school education that would hence determine the basis of my career, I did not even consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) as an option, just like thousands of other girls across the country who do the same every year. While this may seem like a personal decision that is made according to the interest of the student, schools and family members can significantly influence the choice they make.
Now, as a 12th grade commerce student, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where I started to lose interest. Flashbacks of being afraid to ask questions in class, something I still struggle with, and being asked “Am I a tape recorder?” by a science teacher when I requested her to repeat something, all came back to me.
As I reached out to others regarding my experiences, most of my female friends agreed and shared their own incidents. They told me of a Computer Science teacher’s words – “Programming comes naturally to boys, but for girls it requires more effort”, in spite of girls consistently outperforming boys in their class. A career counsellor told another friend that it was easier for boys interested in medicine to pursue the same as they do not have to worry about getting married and having children, which are duties girls cannot shy away from.
When talking to male friends, however, I found that they seemed perplexed and have never noticed any instances of casual sexism in class. That was when I realised how schools have a larger impact than we think on issues like gender equality and feminism.
SDG 5, or Sustainable Development Goal 5, as mentioned by the United Nations is concerned with gender equality, and its slightly more controversial counterpart, feminism. I say feminism because I believe it is hypocritical to talk about gender equality without making references to the great progress the feminist movement has made over the years. In my opinion, there are several ways to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.
Firstly, schools must sensitise teachers about their biases, subconscious or not, as well as ensure that they encourage women and girls into STEM subjects, as this is the foremost measure that can begin to bridge the gap between genders in terms of choice of careers the future. Education can change lives in more than one way.
Secondly, educational institutions need to work towards making boys and girls less alien to each other. As a 12th grader, I still do not reach out to boys in my class the way I would to girls, and that is because I have always been taught to stay away due to teachers fearing us being “too friendly”. It is important for schools to just let boys, girls and children from other genders be, and perhaps even encourage them to interact with each other further, to ensure fulfilling platonic, healthy relationships.
Lastly, I believe it is key for schools to make student uniforms, if any, gender neutral. Although this seems like a small change, it can move mountains in the fight for gender equality as it encourages students to see lesser differences between each other while allowing those who do not identify with the gender binary to not have to go through the mental agony of having to wear clothes they do not entirely believe in nor identify with.
More importantly, the reason I was able to pinpoint why I didn’t steer towards the sciences, like my male counterparts did, was because my family taught me to question the things we otherwise often take for granted, and made sure my voice was heard. The support and encouragement my family gave me while I was a confused teenager attempting to figure out my identity and what I believed in, is the reason I can proudly call myself a feminist today.
Similarly, it is vital for parents, especially those raising young boys, to not only be open minded but to also constantly encourage conversations about gender equality and teach their children to be mindful of their privilege and how to use it to benefit those not as privileged as them. This can truly change the world we live in as it will teach those who grow to be the future to ensure they live in a more equal, prosperous and sustainable world than we do today.
To conclude, the role school and family can play to encourage gender equality is enormous and hence must not be taken for granted. Even small efforts like encouraging women into STEM subjects if they are interested, can make large differences on the way gender equality is looked at. In the words of Michelle Obama, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of almost half of its citizens”.
Tara Awasthi is a high-school student with a deep interest in the issues that affect girls and women across India. She aspires to go into academia and wants to explore the intersection of gender and economics. You may find her on Instagram
Featured Image Source: The Statesman