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When classrooms promote patriarchy

Feb 3 2017 / Posted in Gender Violence

That sexism and patriarchy is deeply ingrained in India is not a matter of debate. But when actively promoted in school textbooks, it becomes a matter of grave concern.

There is much outrage and sarcastic humor over the recent news report about a Class 12 textbook in Maharashtra that lists “ugliness” as a cause of dowry.

To elaborate, the sociology textbook says - “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes difficult for her to get married”. It follows this up by saying that families of such girls feel helpless and end up paying more dowries.

The battle against patriarchy, as many NGOs working on the ground will attest, is a long, uphill one. It’s a fight to change mindsets that develop and are fostered at homes - attitudes that both genders are equally guilty of propagating.

Imagine the impact then of school textbooks on deeply impressionable young minds? They should be agents of change. However, instead of damning a system that places girls in a secondary role and fosters practices like dowry, our textbooks are promoting regressive attitudes.

This is not the only textbook guilty of promoting such pearls of wisdom. Read this gem from a textbook in Rajasthan - A donkey is like a housewife … In fact, the donkey is a shade better … while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off.. You’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.

A three-year-long study on Indian education, which looked at 22 English and 20 Hindi textbooks, stated that the authors of school textbooks showed a deeply patriarchal mindset. Women are shown as weak, in need of protection and capable only of staying at home.

A study by UNESCO of school textbooks from across the world found that many of them are deeply gender biased and undermine girls' motivation, participation and performance in school. Regarding India, it said, “half the illustrations in elementary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks depicted only males”.

The subliminal messages these books reinforce is that of a patriarchal world, where women are capable only of playing secondary, submissive roles. Attitudes are shaped early and such messages at the school level have a dangerous impact, substantially undermining the fight against gender discrimination.