On National Girl Child Day, Nidhi Dubey talks about how gender equality cannot be achieved until mindsets are addressed first.

Imagine the year 2126. Historic advancements in science, technology and space explorations have been made. You can sign up to go to the Moon; climate change is under control; artificial intelligence is omnipresent; oil has been discovered in the Himalayas. What else do you think we may have achieved this year? Gender equality.

Key Takeaways:

  • It will take the world 108 years to achieve gender equality according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index report.
  • Women and girls face inequalities in not just spheres of education, health and workplace, but also at home with decision-making capacity and bargaining power.
  • Children belonging to the age group (5-12 years) can develop feelings of industriousness or inferiority depending on the encouragement and appreciation they receive from their parents, teachers and peers.
  • Orienting adolescents with the distinction between gender and sex; forms of violence; correlation between societal expectations and their gender – together constitutes information vital for shaping their mindsets.

Yes, it will take the world 108 years to achieve gender equality according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index report. Are we that unequal? 108 years for women and men to be treated equally – devoid of any biases and discrimination. Closer home, a glance through India’s performance on any global or national studies is a harsh awakening. The country continues to report unfavourable sex ratio and recently slipped twenty-one slots on the Gender Gap index to occupy the same ranking second year counting. Further, a report by NITI Aayog demonstrated the dismal performance of Indian states on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 i.e., gender equality with almost all states being in the red zone – reiterating the extent of work India must undertake to achieve the goal.

It will take the world 108 years to achieve gender equality according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index report.

Women and girls face inequalities in not just spheres of education, health and workplace, but also at home with decision-making capacity and bargaining power. A common thread binds all these challenges and barriers together. Women and girls often find themselves being pushed to the periphery for a variety of reasons such as lack of opportunities and access – but most importantly due to restrictive mindsets and behaviours. It is these that allows women and girls to be perceived as brides-to-be, mothers-in-waiting, caretakers, cheap labour, etc. Until mindsets are addressed, well-meaning policies such as reserving seats for women; schemes incentivizing girl education will continue to only be palliative in nature.

Until mindsets are addressed, well-meaning policies such as reserving seats for women; schemes incentivizing girl education will continue to only be palliative in nature.

Good practices must be inculcated early on is an unspoken thumb rule that I am certain most will concur with. This is especially true for children embarking on adolescence – a period marked with rapid cognitive, biological and psychological change. In fact, Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, which posits various stages a healthy developing individual must pass through from infancy to late adulthood, reveals a crucial finding on formative years of 5-12 years. It postulates that children belonging to this age group can develop feelings of industriousness or inferiority depending on the encouragement and appreciation they receive from their parents, teachers and peers. Though formulated in the 20th century, Erikson viewed elementary school as critical for cultivating self-confidence. This theory continues to hold water with the Global Early Adolescent Study finding that children, including those from India, report to internalize myths about roles and potential of girls and boys at a very early age.

Erikson viewed elementary school as critical for cultivating self-confidence.

This combined with students spending more time in classrooms in India than any other OECD countries makes educational institutions important platforms wherein a gender-equitable understanding of the world can be built, and the underlying cause of gender inequality be uprooted.

Nearly 315 million students are enrolled in schools in India and thus investing in adolescents is one of India’s core strategies of development. Through the course of my work, I had an opportunity to experience first-hand what a school-based gender sensitization curriculum can yield. Girl Rising conducted a pilot in 267 schools across six states, using a multi-media gender sensitisation curriculum. The findings from the evaluation concluded that orienting adolescents with the distinction between gender and sex; forms of violence; correlation between societal expectations and their gender – together constitutes information vital for shaping their mindsets and thus their futures. Besides the likely enhancement of potential and agency, such a curriculum was instrumental in building feelings of compassion; respect towards one another and awareness of manifestations of gender-based discrimination.

The findings from the evaluation concluded that orienting adolescents with the distinction between gender and sex; forms of violence; correlation between societal expectations and their gender – together constitutes information vital for shaping their mindsets and thus their futures.

The year gone by has seen promising development for women’s rights and this momentum must be maintained. Time is ripe for us to make meaningful strides instead of steps towards amplifying women’s voice; ensure prioritization of their issues instead of encouraging; alleviate barriers hindering their progress instead of mitigating. Leveraging India’s favourable demographic dividend is an important strategy to bring attention to gender equality and perhaps make the year 2126 arrive sooner.

Nidhi Dubey is India Country Head at Girl Rising which is a global campaign for girl’s education and empowerment. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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