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Learnings from working on gender

Aise kapde pehnegi to aur kya hoga? Ladke to ladke hote hai.” (What else will happen if she wears such clothes? Boys will be boys)

He he he he!!!” (Reacting to the story of an effeminate boy)

Ladkiyon ki to shaadi kar dete hai jaldi, padhai par itna dhyaan kaha.” (Girls are married off early, who cares about their education)

Aurat ko to poochna padta hai bahar jaane se pehle. Aadmi ka kya, woh to kahin bhi ja sakta hai.” (A woman has to take permission before stepping out of the house. A man can go anywhere)

(While playing a power walk game)Ye kaise aage badh gayee? Itna aasan thode na hai ladkiyon ka aage badhna.” (How did she move ahead? It’ not that easy for a girl to move ahead)

Oft heard?

By us too. Across the years.

The above were just some reactions from a community where we were testing the prototype of a game kit developed to help identify overt and covert forms of discrimination and question power dynamics. We were testing the kit with different groups – adolescent girls, adolescent boys, women, and men – and across each group we heard similar sentiments echoed. But, across these groups we also found sparks of change: one girl asking another ‘why is that so?’; one man stating loudly ‘this is wrong’; one boy saying ‘I cook at home and like it.’

Gender norms tell us what is appropriate for women, for men, for girls, for boys. These norms and roles restrict freedom and mobility, lead to harassment and violence, decrease opportunities to grow.

At StratComm we have been working on several projects that directly work on gender-based discrimination and violence. Some organisations plan to work on the issue at the field level with communities, especially boys and men; some ensure they weave in the issue in their health programmes; some work with girls to support them as they understand gender norms and begin their journey to question it.

Here are some of our learnings while working with different organisations that work with communities in different regions of the country:

Work inside out: Most models talk about how change starts from the individual – speaking with girls (and women), helping them understand gender and related issues, supporting them unravel the status quo, guiding them as they challenge it in their daily lives. One spark. That can make a difference.

In our work with CREA we are looking at how girls meet and talk about gender and related issues, and also engage in a process of ‘me time’ for reflection.

Build a bridge between knowledge and action: Knowing is usually not enough. We may know the harmful effects of something but that may not necessarily make us take action. One cannot emphasise enough on the need for a clear call to action. It can take the form of pointing people to additional resources and tools, spelling out small steps and changes to make or facilitate a process for groups in excavating the potential within to support each other.

In our work with PFI we helped break down to simple calls to action – what are the 5 things that parents can do for gender equality?

Make it appear doable: For a girl, showcase how someone else made a change in her life. For a mother or father, showcase how there are other families who have benefited from the action. Positive deviance rocks!

In our work with The University of Chicago we used the power of storytelling to talk about ‘a girl just like you’.

Point to smaller easier actions: We all adopt a service or behaviour if it is easy, if we do not have to take too much effort for it. Why then do we expect someone else to adopt something that might not be easy for them? Provide simple messages breaking the clutter around it. Small steps will make a difference (while we plan for tectonic shifts).

In our work with The University of Chicago and CREA we built in participatory models for girls and boys to discuss and decide what is feasible to change and what role they can play in it.

Address the biases of the facilitators of change: What people believe, say and do are three different things. The facilitators are also part of the community. Help them dive deep into their own beliefs before they go out and question someone else’s.

In our work with PFI we used the same tools – games and films – with the facilitators that we expected them to use with the community. This helped them go through the process of reflection before venturing out to change their community.


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