Two years ago, in my final year of college, I took a course on Indian Economy – Performance and Policies. One time, what had started as an innocent discussion about the gender make-up of the Indian services sector turned too grave too soon as my professor gave his flawed insight to a classroom full of students.
He announced that more women than men work in customer care/service roles in India and then proceeded to tell us his reasoning – customer care roles require employees to talk in English, and women are better at the English language than men. Next he explained why that was. It was particularly ironic because his explanation was preceded by the caveat that he was a feminist, and what he said shouldn’t be misconstrued to mean otherwise. Essentially, he said that women (being shallow and superficial) talk in English to “show off”, and thus have all that extra practice. Men, on the other hand, are more genuine and don’t really bother to keep up with appearances, so conversed in Hindi more often than English.
It bothered me that he was able to take a seemingly positive thing for women and turn into something insulting and offensive. It also gnawed at me that a university professor of statistics and economics was able to isolate that relationship between women’s inherent need to “show off” and their language skills without any research. There could be a dozen other reasons for his hypothesis – maybe women are just more adept at learning new languages than men. In fact, I was able to find more research studies to support my explanation than his. But what upset me most about this situation was that a teacher could just march into class and demonstrate his biases to a class full of students under the pretext of science or economics or statistics. Dr Allyson Jule, of Trinity Western University, Canada conducted research on elementary-school and college classes, and found that teachers (irrespective of their gender) tended to unknowingly prompt boys to speak in class more than girls. She also found that this might eventually lead women to be quieter in the workplace, hurting their chances for career advancement. Consciously or sub consciously, we all harbor some prejudiced and biases. But in a profession as crucial as that of an educator, surely something must be done so that they don’t color the impressionable minds of the students with the same biases.
In March 2005, the United Nations declared 2005 to 2014 as the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and UNESCO was tasked to lead the Decade. In 2010, UNESCO, in collaboration with governments in Japan, Vietnam, Republic of Korea and others published “Reorienting Teacher Education to Address Sustainable Development: Guidelines and Tools- Gender Sensitizing”. According to its mission statement –
“Teachers are strategically positioned to act as agents of change in order to achieve gender equality, especially through what they teach, how they teach and how they role model their own attitudes, beliefs and practices in the classroom and beyond. Indeed, teachers do not come into classrooms as gender-neutral persons. They are likely to have internalized a patriarchal gender ideology through their upbringing and years of socialization in both formal and informal settings. This module uses experiential, interactive, participatory and reflective methodologies to sensitize teachers to the meaning and classroom practice implications of gender consciousness so that teachers can adopt a gender perspective in their everyday lives and in their teaching functions.”
Gender Spectrum, a San Francisco-based non-profit, is among the leaders in providing gender sensitivity training, and offers its support to social services and child welfare agencies as well as a number of schools in California.
To my knowledge, there are no similar initiatives in India currently, but it is imperative that something be done because education will help trigger change but only when teachers and learners are assisted in adopting classroom initiatives that reflect new images based on a positive gender equity ideology.
 Are women better at learning languages – The Telegraph
 Teachers need gender training – The Georgia Straight
 Reorienting Teacher Education to Address Sustainable Development: Gender Sensitizing – UNESCO
 Teacher training extends to gender sensitivity – Cabinet Report
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