Transforming Education to Break Gender Stereotypes and Build Equitable Future

Build-Equitable-Future Students from the Quest Alliance STEM club making a class presentation at an Ideathon.

Taarini (name changed) is a trailblazer in her Assamese village, Pathasala Gaon. She speaks over the swooshing broom-heads that gather everything found on the floor of her 9th-grade classroom. Like the brooms, the soft-spoken teenager is sweeping gender stereotypes out of her co-ed school and home after participating in Quest Alliance's gender sensitization sessions that spread awareness about unconscious gender biases and prejudices.  

The gender-focused curricula inspired the boys and girls to switch roles during their daily classroom cleaning routine. Taarini reminisced that the boys did the heavy lifting, while the girls swept the floors. Today, the girls heaved the benches while the boys swept the floor. Furthermore, her newfound awareness of gender gaps in household chores trickled into her family — when she persuaded her father to cook and clean after returning from work. Sharing domestic chores has given her mother more time to rest. 

Witnessing and critiquing gender roles in classrooms instils autonomy in students to occupy their rightful space in school, home, and society. Thereby, giving them the agency to speak, negotiate, and be heard by authority, which in turn prepares adolescents to make important life decisions.

While Taarini was busy changing gender stereotypes in East India, Rina Makvana (grade 8) of Gujarat's Navavadi School was scripting her story in the West. Though her loving father supports her education, she faces the imminent threat of discontinuing school owing to her grandmother's and society's disapproval of studying in a co-ed school. Her principal noticed that dropout rates surged in high school because parents thought mingling with boys would lead their daughters astray. Nevertheless, she is committed to becoming the first employed woman in her family. The STEM club and gender seminars held by Quest Alliance helped her in problem-solving, critical thinking, and constructing arguments. Gaining a safe space to express her ideas, resolve differences, and apply computational thinking has given her a growth mindset to solve problems in science and build an equitable future. She confronted her older brother who tried to dissuade her from going on a school trip. Standing her ground and reasoning that traveling would transform her made him loosen his reins.

Highlighting the importance of encouraging gender discourses in schools, Neha Parti, Director (Schools), Quest Alliance said, "It is crucial to create spaces for girls and boys to dialogue how they experience gender and unknowingly reinforce culturally normative biases. This awareness builds muscle to challenge gender norms. Instilling self-belief and confidence is crucial while making critical life choices around marriageable age, continuing higher education, migrating for work, etc." 

Echoing Ms. Parti's words, Rina hopes to become an educator who can uplift students like herself. On the contrary, her father, a housekeeping staff, feels she can't obtain a civil or corporate job because no family member has worked in either of these sectors.

Rina is not alone. According to the Indian Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for women (>15 years) has increased from 23.3% (2017-18) to 37% (2022-23) in metropolitans and 24.6% (2017-18) to 41.5% (2022-2023) in suburbs. Yet, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey, India has one of the world's least female LFPRs — 37% compared to the global average of 47% (October 2023). A World Bank report highlights that ensuring 12 years of schooling for girls is the first step towards — improving agency and decision-making; reducing child marriages/ early childbearing; and higher job opportunities. Additionally, providing safe working conditions, toilets, and maternity laws would ensure women's continued participation in developing countries' labour markets.

To help more women claim offices and public spaces, 5 boys from Prithwiraj High School, Odisha, have designed the Safety Chappal, "The lack of safe public spaces and self-defence confines many women to their homes and forgo employment. The Safety Chappal will alleviate this challenge", says Binayak Panda, a team member who built the prototype during a 4-day Hackathon boot camp held by Quest Alliance. 

The Safety Chappal is a self-defence device with a circuit, button, and a screw. During an assault, pressing the button will tase the perpetrator. The boys believe such devices will empower more women to claim public spaces and work night shift jobs. 

This innovation illustrates how sensitizing boys about gender-related challenges can solve a global issue at the grassroots. As men identify and ideate equitable, inclusive solutions to women's problems society's overall well-being improves.

These case studies chorus in unison that conversing about gender roles and inclusion in classrooms sensitizes boys and girls to gender expectations within homes and communities. Promoting gender equity will change the next generation's mindset and foster mutual respect — necessary for an egalitarian society where men and women have the equitable power to work and make life decisions. 

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