A new course on gender equality has been commissioned and mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Government of Telangana for undergraduates. This is the first of its kind mandated by any state in India. The textbook, “Towards a World of Equals: A Bilingual Textbook on Gender” , is written and edited by various teachers and researchers from univerisities around Hyderabad and the Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies. The course and textbook come into fruition after a 2012 Task Force on Gender Sensitization, set up by the UGC, wrote a report titled SAKSHAM:
“The Task Force noted that ‘one of the weakest aspects of our institutions at higher education level is the lack of gender sensitivity’. It also observed that ‘gender sensitization is not a matter for students alone, but it is required in all Colleges and Universities and for all sections of the community – students, faculty in all disciplines, support staff and in administration. The report has made several recommendations to enhance gender equality in higher education. Introduction to courses on gender sensitization is first and foremost thing. It has also noted that such courses should address citizenship and rights, the nature and power, the problem of violence, countering sexual harassment and issues related to equality and freedom, as well as knowledge in matter of the law and rights.”
So far, pharmacy and engineering colleges have started mandating the course (teachers were trained in December 2015-Jan 2016), and other universities/colleges may also take it up.
Recently, I attended an event where one of the co-editors (from Anveshi) came to present a bit on their intentions and motivations when writing the book and its supplements. It was written to try to get young people to engage with the material and find it “fun”, and to incite open discussion (rather than for rote learning for examination) about topics that are almost never discussed in the open seriously. There is a supplementary website with a lot of material – videos, anecdotes, chapters from vernacular literature, short documentaries, (and even metaphors from Kolaveri, haha) are used to initiate and further delve into discussion points and themes in the book.
Some of the topics that came up in the Q&A were around how they can try to address issues that are often mixed in with gender inequality – caste, and class based inequalities, and how and when such an initiative would ever come into place for children of younger ages. There has only been one round of training so far, and a full semester of the course has not yet been completed – so not much data on how the teachers are taking having to teach the course, or how the course is actually going yet. However, there was some amount of sensitization, anecdotally reported at the session I went to, that needed to be done with the male teachers to explain why such a course was needed.
So far, while reading the book, it has been really interesting to see what kinds of pop references – local, national, and international – have been used and adapted for the content and course. Quite interesting to see what the writers think the status quo is (for example, how important nationalism is to everyone), and therefore what “ins” they find within this status quo to bring up discussions around gender equality.
It is also heartening that even though there are some topics which the co-editor said they had to self-censor, such as sexual orientation and homosexuality (they were afraid that RSS members of the committee that had to finally approve the content would not let it go through, and sadly, also didn’t even know how to address the topic of homosexuality fully because they could not find examples in vernacular literature or other “acceptable” pop culture references), they hope to write a revised version to include more of; they also want to try to include more about male socialization in the next version.
Some excerpts below
Table of Contents
The deep metaphors of Kolaveri di (see 4th paragraph)
Including equality in the definition of nationalism (interesting)
Male-dominated cultures….they had to adapt this particular cartoon to “sexy sari” vs “conservative sari” instead of the original cartoon – they thought the other would would be considered “too scandalous” by board members of the committee that would approve the course content!
(FYI: the original cartoon. Which they thought would be too “politically charged” in include in this format.)
Up for discussion: masculine, feminine, and neutral qualities in society
Our bodies, our health