In Patna, India we support two local partners who are using education and non-violent community action to tackle the culturally ingrained caste system. In addition to basic education, the centres run by these organisations are focussed on helping children to be aware of their rights, to respect and value other people and build a more inclusive society.
A big component of this is learning about gender equality. Sr Veena who leads this work in the urban slums of Patna says ‘We were not aware of the extent of gender inequality and bias that exists in our society. We realised through the classes that adolescent girls and children were just accepting the social barriers in their homes and in public places”.
Girls at home are regularly denied various items like ghee and milk, and are given poorer quality clothes. Through the gender equality classes, they began to challenge this in their families, and at least 44 have already seen their home situations improve.
The gender equality classes are directed at those not already in the centres, and they cover a range of subjects including ‘good touch and bad touch’, ideas of gender and how they are acquired, gender inequality at home, group pressure, violence, media and ‘the qualities of an empowered person’.
A major social barrier for girls here is access to learning. After this programme 88 children joined the education programme, 35 of these had never had any schooling and 80% were girls. Having gained the confidence to negotiate with their parents about the importance of education, these girls were allowed to begin classes.
One girl called Joya said “I was a very shy person. I had lot of fear. Even if someone beat me I never said anything. My teacher understood my problem, and through the gender training we were told we have to raise our voice against injustice and violence. I was not allowed to study. But at home I fought for my right to study after the training. I am a girl and I have a right to learn”.
The equality classes are for both boys and girls, with the understanding that everyone must work together to make a change. One boy called Vikas described how “We learnt so much more than just ‘school’ at the Centre. We learned about gender awareness, ‘Peace Day’ and ‘good touch and bad touch’. One day on the road I was walking. I saw a man touching a girl badly. I told him that you have no right to touch the girls. He was ashamed and put his head down and said ‘sorry’ to the girl and left her alone. I thank Ms Amisha for giving the class on good and bad touch.”
Outside of these classes work is done with parents through local Women’s Groups. These groups learn about saving and business, about how to claim the land and financial opportunities they are entitled to and how to create a groundswell of awareness regarding their rights. Through this they receive training on gender equality, helping them to understand that equal rights for their children starts at home. This has sometimes been a challenge, as Sr Veena describes:
“For women in the groups, it was very difficult for them to accept that they discriminate against their daughters and daughters-in-law at home. It will take time for women to accept that much gender discrimination is done by them at home. Unless you accept this, there cannot be any change. Three child marriages (of 13-14 year old girls) from one centre were stopped due to this awareness. At the same time three young girls were married from this area. It is a challenge for us we need to create more awareness about child marriage in the community”.
The teachers at the centres are all trained in gender equality, and many have struggled with social barriers themselves. Prisha was made to work with her father, from the age of 6 to 15 years in a footpath tea stall. Working until 10 pm each day, the intense workload and unhygienic condition of the place resulted in her legs and hands becoming deformed.
Sister Veena describes how “She did not give up her will to be educated. She cried insistently, so her father allowed her to attend the government school during the day. The problem was that there was no time to study or do homework, but she used to hide her book in the shop and continue her studies through to grade 10. Whenever he saw her studying in the shop, she was scolded and her books were thrown away.”
Soon after this her parents sent Prisha to another workplace outside the area. At this point our local partners supported her, brought her back to Patna and enabled her to begin her higher level study. She is teaching in one of the education centres and caring for other girls who are facing barriers to education.
Veena describes how at the start of the gender equality lessons, the girls were all intent on being called ‘son’ by family members and people in the community, rather than ‘daughter’. They said that they preferred the sense of identity it gave them. After four trainings, the girls all changed their thought patterns and expressed a desire to to be called ‘daughter’. Families started to increasingly adopt the term ‘Beti’, meaning ‘dear or darling daughter’.
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