GENDER SENSITIVITY AS A PART OF THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM – NEED OF THE HOUR

Updated: Feb 28

Introduction

The year 2020 bought along with it, a slew of transphobic movies that claim to be empowering. One of the movies even failed to recognize the fact that a trans-woman is a woman and termed the individual as a ‘man who became a woman’. Though, it received a considerable amount of backlash; it still cannot be ignored that there is wide spread ignorance and an absent rage at such portrayal or, perhaps, even a failure to understand what the issue is. Even today, there is no social acceptance for transgender, much of which seems to stem from the lack of awareness. More than conducting awareness campaigns to reduce discrimination, measures need to be taken to curb the prejudice at the earliest stage possible. There are findings that children learn to categorize their own gender by the time they are 3 years old. These further form into gender stereotypes. This is precisely why there is a need to restrict the spread of such prejudice as early as possible. Providing gender sensitisation and awareness would go a long way in curbing discrimination.

Issues arising due to lack of awareness

The term trans covers a ‘diversity of gender identities and forms of gender expressions’. Even today, there is a clear lack of awareness about transpersons in the country. The most common modes of attaining such awareness is through movies, articles, speeches, etc. Yet, they continue to disappoint and portray a false, and horrifying image of those they are supposedly, empowering. Youngsters grow up being conditioned to believe in certain ideologies. The ability to step out of, what is termed ‘normal behaviour’ often comes with its fair share of criticism and in most circumstances, harassment from the rest of the society. Psychologists have concluded that children, at a young age observe and mimic social behaviour. Gender bias is carried forward from generation to generation. The fact that biological sex need not be constant and is prone to changes is an unknown element for most adults, let alone children.

Often times, schools which should offer support and care end up being catalysts of a toxic system that promotes oppression as there is no acceptance of, what is termed ‘out of the norm’ behaviour, when in fact, it is as natural as everything else. It is unfortunate, that till now, in most schools or colleges, we rarely see transgenders being themselves. There is widespread teasing and bullying, especially for those who try to break free from such stereotypes. In a survey conducted for sexual/gender minority youth, it was found that out of 371 participants, more than 84% of them were being bullied by their co-students. Further, it was also revealed that about 61% of the parents ask the victims to alter their behaviours to avoid being bullied. The whole environment ends up being detrimental for students, as they can never be their true selves and many end up dropping out of schools, as they lack support from school authorities, friends and family. Considering the fact that we all depend on social acceptance, any deviation from it is a threat to our very being. For transgenders, the lack of social acceptance is a definite threat to their survival as it is interconnected with their ability to pursue their education, jobs and lead happy lives. Certain experiences shared by them also throw some light on the toll such prejudice takes on their mental health.

Conditions abroad

Internationally, significant progress has been made to create awareness and ensure their rights are guaranteed. The WHO updated the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and has reclassified gender identity disorder, or identifying as transgender, in terms of a condition related to sexual health and not a “mental disorder”, as it was earlier. Historically, many medical systems have categorized the state of being transgender as a ‘mental health condition’. This reclassification would help transpersons get any medical assistance they require without it being viewed as a mental condition or disorder. This move by WHO was hailed as progress, as there was at least some understanding about the fact that it is not a mental condition, but a natural biological process.

Even though there is no specific treaty regarding the protection of rights of other genders and sexualities, the Committees of the UN refer to such rights in their recommendation to States, as being a part of existing treaties. The path so far has been riddled with struggles and is not complete. A lot needs to be done to achieve true gender equality. There has been a magnanimous effort to ensure transpersons are being accepted in schools and that their rights are not violated. Countries, such as the United Kingdom are conducting courses to ensure their schools are accepting of transpersons.

Current situation in India

Measures have been taken in India as well, to educate trans persons as well as inculcate awareness in others. The first transgender school was started in Kerala in 2017. Other schools have also been set up in and around the country. Though the measure was well-received, it still is far from a socially inclusive atmosphere. It is disheartening that regular schools do not provide the same level of support and inclusiveness. It was found that in 2020, the pass percentages of transgenders in 10th and 12th has decreased. The data pertaining to the discrimination against them for accessing education and jobs opportunities is appalling. Also, there is not sufficient data available as the 2011 census did not collect data specifically on transgenders and instead, their data was collected, clubbed along with men. It is a shame to call ourselves forward thinking if we cannot even recognise their existence. Further, in a report, it was found that, women are under-represented in textbooks or are depicted as carrying out conventional roles, such as cooking, cleaning, etc. It is even more saddening that there is no mention of transgenders, let alone their portrayal in most of the school books. Recognising the existence of something/ someone is the first step to acceptance and in most cases, there is no recognition of trans persons in the first place.

It has been 6 years since the judgment of the Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, that provided for legal recognition for a third gender and allowed for self-determination of gender. Even now, there has not been a major change in their conditions. In 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was enacted. The Act received a substantial amount of criticism as it called for Transgenders to mandatorily apply for a Transgender Certificate to be classified as one and it shall be the District Magistrate who would grant such a certificate. It also raises a concern, as the Act only calls for recognition of the individual as a transgender, not as a trans-woman or trans-man, thereby falling within the classification of a female or male respectively. For individuals to be recognised as a woman or a man, they first have to be recognised as a transgender by the District Magistrate and then can apply for a gender – change certificate, which requires proof of surgery. These provisions violate the rights granted vide the NALSA judgment, such as the right of self-determination and called for sex reassignment surgeries for the purpose of declaring one’s gender illegal . Though the Act does provide for general provisions against discrimination and endeavours to safeguard transrights, these provisions in particular, backtracks on the progress made and does not in any way, empower them.

Need for changes in the school curriculum

One of the best ways to counter and bring about social change is by sharing information and experiences, so people understand, empathize and accept these individuals. Ensuring their education would go a long way in empowering them. Youngsters, especially those in school are shaped by their parent’s ideologies. Schools and the surrounding circumstances have a major role in their development as well. The prejudices imbibed in children sometimes act as a deterrent to their acceptance of others and the way they are, or even themselves for that matter.

An experiment, in the form of discussions, was conducted in the schools in Haryana, India to address restrictive gender norms and equality. The results showed an improvement in the adolescent’s support for gender equality and social acceptance. Interventions in the right stages is the way to move forward. Women empowerment took decades of effort and fighting prejudice. There were multiples measures to educate the girl child and awareness campaigns were conducted. Further, women in successful positions were hailed as role models to encourage your girls to succeed in life.

Possible solutions

For true gender equality, the same measures must be taken to reduce and completely abolish gender bias against trans persons. Apart from educating them in schools, there is an active need to educate Teachers and school authorities, along with fellow students. If such sensitization measures are not carried out, it would not be an inclusive environment. Ragging and harassment in schools needs to be addressed and stringent measures need to be taken against wrong-doers. Any form of gender discrimination much not be accepted and called out at the earliest stage possible.

The New Education policy does call for gender sensitization and measures to reverse the underrepresentation of minority groups. The gender sensitization programmes must include a proper biological explanation, their right and ability to determine their gender themselves, the normalcy of their existence, their present state of being and how the oppression should not carry on, among other things. Teachers and school authorities need to be guided as well to ensure they do not treat trans persons differently, yet at the same time ensures they are given sufficient attention.

Conclusion

In India, with enough awareness campaigns and education, women and men recognized the inherent patriarchy and gender discrimination and are taking measures to address the same. Similarly, only education and sensitization campaigns can create awareness and ensure trans persons are socially accepted and not discriminated. Introducing gender sensitization programmes in the school curriculum would not only lead to a better standard of living for them but would also ensure society, as a whole recognises their struggle and accepts them.


Title Image source: AIGA


This article has been written by Vibha S. Vibha is a 4th year B.COM LLB (Hons.) student at SASTRA University.