Gender training sessions are used to bring behavioural change among individuals, collectives or organizations towards:
1. Gender equality: Equal rights, resources and opportunities for all genders
2. Gender sensitivity: Awareness about gender roles in our life
3. Gender inclusivity: Openness to every gender
Recently, Udyogini conducted a three-day gender training for its Wadrafnagar (a town in Chhattisgarh where I’m currently working) and Ramanujganj (the adjacent block) teams in Ambikapur district, 90 km from Wadrafnagar. The discussion started with listing out what the participants thought are the differences between a man and a woman. Building up on that, Lakshmi*, who has been a trainer on the topic for more than 15 years, talked about the actual definition of gender. She told us the difference between gender and sex, where the former is a societal construct and the latter is biological. Through group activities, she explained how ‘gender’ related privilege to one sex is disadvantageous to all the sexes, including the privileged sex.
Here I am talking about men as the privileged sex. There are a lot of disadvantages for them due to their privilege. For example, men cannot cry in public places due to the social norms. Men who want to help women in household chores, or cook at home are seen as “unmanly”. They cannot pursue their preferred jobs as per their interests because they have to earn for the family. Personally, when I go to my relatives’ home, all my female cousins help with the kitchen work while male cousins “go out” and bring necessary supplies for home.
Coming back to the training, all the participants were divided into two groups. Each group had to plan a two-hour session to conduct a training in a village the next day. We brainstormed among ourselves and came up with two activities planned to talk about the differences between gender and sex. We would also draw inferences from the activities about how gender is influencing each person’s human potential and how these structures are being passed on from generation to generation, which further leads to gender inequity and discrimination.
Here’s a bit about both the activities:
We carried pictures of various items that are generally given as a gift. For example, toy car, doll, hairband, broom, make-up kit etc. To ask each villager whether they would gift these to a boy or a girl on their 5th birthday. We would then build up on the responses by showing a different set of pictures that break stereotypes, by showing a person from the opposite sex using the item they would gift to a person from a particular sex.
We designed a skit in which we would showcase lives of two persons of different sexes facing various societal actions and practices through multiple stages in their lives. It would indicate how one person goes forward each time they feel positive, for example, on getting a job, and one person goes backward each time they feel negative, for example, by restricted mobility, hence, lost opportunities. This would clearly show the stark difference between the mental pursuits of human spirit and potential after a certain period of time in each person’s life through the physical space created between these two people.
We prepared all the material required, the script, flow of the process and closing remarks. Our group reached the village the next day. We introduced ourselves and our organization, Udyogini, and started by asking them what they thought were the differences between a man and a woman, followed by the first activity, ‘The Gift’.
We asked two children from the community to stand beside each other, so that the adults can gift them the items. Some of the choices were as expected. A man who was given a broom gave it to a girl because he thought that it is her job to clean the house. When asked whether he sweeps his home at all, he replied that he does it only when necessary, for example, when his wife is sick or away from home, or if he gets a job as a sweeper.
A few responses were unexpected too. In some cases, people felt that the item given to them can belong to both the girl and the boy. They then placed it in the middle. This included hairband, make-up kit, vessels, doll, and cricket bat. On being asked why they did that, they replied that their daughters play cricket and sons use hairband.
Suman* ji whose son wears a hairband tells us that it is a trend these days. When elders of the family scold her son about his long hair, she yells at him in front of them. But when the elders are not around, she tells him to follow his heart. Urmila* ji told us that because of the structural conditioning, the previous generation has been rigid to such changes. But the present generation is trying its best to be flexible.
All of us were surprised. I felt delighted that the civil society working with this community was able to leave their mark. The willingness to change among this group of people is wonderful. We decided not to go with the second activity, and ended the “training” admiring them. We also told them that they can use the same tool to spread awareness among other people who they know. This incident and its associated learning gave me a renewed inspiration and motivation to work.
*Names changed to maintain confidentiality