I am often asked at our events, “What about the boys?” Truthfully, I bristle thinking, “Don’t men and boys have enough privilege in the world?” I politely respond with my arsenal of information about why girls are often cheated in receiving an education in India and then present the overwhelming evidence of the positive impact when girls are educated. A quote by activist Urvashi Sahni sums things up, “Even the most marginalized boy (in India) is more advantaged than his sister.” (1) That has been my belief and maybe my bias.
My thinking has changed over time and new evidence has made me ask, “Why not boys?” The Kiran Anjali Project’s vision is “A bias free world where every child receives a quality education.” An exclusive focus on girls’ education does not fully address the deep roots of gender inequality. Boys and men have to be part of the conversation and solution, because gender bias hurts them too. New research about enrollment rates of boys and girls in India is good news/bad news. The good news is girls’ enrollment in school has improved over two fold to that of boys. The bad news is the alarming drop out rate for both boys and girls by or before secondary school which is now 78% for boys and 81% for girls. (2)
The Kiran Anjali Project has been supporting co-ed education at Carnation Learning Center for several years. We see this as a unique opportunity to influence young boys on the harmful effects of gender norms that create toxic masculinity. Teaching gender equity starts at a very basic level of strong female teachers and principals as role models and challenging gender norms through teaching. The teachers at Carnation are amazing, but The Kiran Anjali Project board wants to do more. We are researching ways to provide a formal gender equality curriculum for the children at Carnation Learning Center, serving children from preschool through 10thgrade. Starting early is important. Most of the programs we have encountered focus on adolescent boys. However, gender norms are established early in childhood so adolescence too late. We want to intervene before biases have been cemented, to help these boys become healthy and happy men.
We can learn what works from pioneers in the field. Here is a sample of the dividends of a well thought out gender equity curriculum:
- From a young age boys learn to associate violence with power and respect. Most violence occurs within families and surveys indicate men and women view men hitting women as acceptable. (3) Teaching another way to communicate and demonstrate respect rather than violence.
- Schools can become sanctuaries from violence and spaces where boys can experiment with other ways to express feelings through drama, art, and games. This can help them create an alternate vision of masculinity.(1)
- When boys are taught to recognize the destructive effects of patriarchal culture, without being made to feel guilty, they become critical thinkers and this leads to new forms of behavior.(1)
- A longitudinal study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is under way researching the impact of gender sensitivity training with teen boys in Haryana, India. Preliminary results indicate that boys and girls relate differently, forging friendships rather than relationships based on sexual dynamics. This will create male allies in the fight for gender equity.(4)
We will keep you posted on how the gender equity curriculum initiative progresses.
Finally, a note of appreciation to all of The Kiran Anjali Project’s male allies. Many of you have been with us from the beginning, supporting our vision. We love that you have been part of our journey to create a bias free world where all children receive a quality education. Thank you!
- https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2018/06/01/what-about-the-boys-educating-boys-for-gender-justice/.What About the Boys? Educating Boys for Gender Justice. Nora Fyles. June 1, 2018.
- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273130909_Enrolment_Dropout_Percentage_among_Boys_Girls_up_to_Secondary_Level_in_IndiaA_Comparative_Study. Enrollment and Dropout Among Boys and Girls Up to Secondary Level in India: A Comparative Study. Ramsesh Pandita. March 2015
- https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/eAprTrjJhDT79ShOIDYIcL/Gender-equality-sensitivity-can-be-taught-Haryana-schools.htmlLivemint. Gender Sensitivity Can Be Taught, Harayana Schools Show. Staff Writer.