Wearing “Her” Shoes

For international women’s day, on March 8th, 2016, Brandeis University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) had organized a panel discussion of 4 speakers to talk about our experience with gender issues. It was an enlightening discussion where I and 3 of my fellow students and gender experts from different departments and various parts of the world presented their perspectives on gender. Below is my panel presentation:

The theme for the event was gender parity. The student panelists spoke about how women in different countries are attempting to achieve parity. “Even in the most advanced societies women continue to face an uphill battle as working mothers,” says von Mering. “Paid family leave and affordable childcare alone will not turn this around unless fathers are made to do their fair share of housework and childrearing.”

Good morning everybody and a very happy women’s day!

I am a first-year student in the Sustainable International Development program, and I am interested in pursuing a career in education quality and access for human resource development in India.

I am happy to be invited to talk on this important day, and I thank my fellow panelists for providing their perspectives. From the standpoint of my nearly 10-years experience working in an NGO that funds educational projects in India, I would like to talk about 2 problems today. The first, and in my opinion one of the most critical issues facing researchers and evaluators, is the absence of gender-based measurements in grassroots NGOs in developing nations. Let me share an experience with you. One of the projects that the organization I was working at, was supporting a school for children of quarry workers. Quarry workers, as we all know, is manual and strenuous labor. This community in suburban Hyderabad mostly used hand-held tools for quarry work. Our goal for this community was to help the “Lion’s Club” to increase student enrollment in the school. One of the things we observed was that the girls were made to stay at home to take care of all the household chores or look after younger siblings while both the parents earn their daily wage by cutting stone. So our NGO proposed a plan to start a midday meal program at the school. We went about organizing the program and funding logistics, together with partnering with nearby schools for nutrition and meal plans. Once we had everything in place, our goal was to spread the word and convince parents to send their children, especially girls, to the school. After many campaigns and cost-benefit analysis sessions, we succeeded in convincing many parents which resulted in an immediate increase in total school enrollment. The part that I want to stress on is, as an NGO we thought the total enrollment increase was a success, but we did not give it a gender perspective although our project’s important stakeholders were young girls in the community. We know that the project impacted the future of those girls, but I still do not have the means to say how much or was it sustainable or did it impact the behavior of the community toward girls. On hindsight, we could have addressed deep-rooted gender-specific issues if we had proper gender-impact measurement processes in place. And similar is the case with many NGOs in India. So, while it is essential to implement projects with a perspective of women and girls, it is also necessary for both small and big NGOs to support projects with appropriate baseline and follow-up data to ensure a sustainable growth and influence longterm behaviors.

The second issue I would like to talk about is the obliviousness to unpaid labor. In the same case of quarry workers, the parents in that community expected the oldest girl to take care of the household chores and her younger siblings, and the boy – irrespective of the age was either taken to work to earn the daily wage or sent to school. The parents justified their not letting the girl child work in a quarry as it is child labor, but expecting her to be at home to perform household chores as it is her “duty.” What we as an organization didn’t, in my opinion, adequately emphasize on, and what many parents still fail to understand is that any form of labor that denies a child’s right to education is still a form of child labor, irrespective of where the child is physically performing the task.  This is not to say that children should not contribute in helping their parents out at home, but I mentioned this because rural and urban girls in India are expected to learn certain tasks with the intention of being good homemakers in the future.

Among the two problems that I spoke about, gender-based data collection is fairly technical and perhaps is slightly easier than changing an attitude towards women/girls’ unpaid labor in the society. Gender issues are not the problem of just women, but a manifestation of the aforementioned behavior of an entire society, and changing an attitude certainly requires several consistent micro-interventions by the government and NGOs. In my opinion, a method to recognize unpaid labor is to involve men and young boys into discussions about gender parity. Recently on NPR, I came across this great article on an NGO in Mumbai. The NGO has some afterschool programs for young boys to increase their awareness about some social problems. One of their projects was to discuss gender parity, where they asked the boys to do one domestic chore that their sisters or mothers do at home, every day. The NPR article focused on the story of a young boy and the change in his attitude towards his sister, and as an extension toward all the girls in the society, because of this seemingly small exercise!

It’s a slow and a step-by-step process to influence gender parity attitudes. Although many organizations have long been working diligently to change the society’s behavior toward gender equality, especially in unpaid labor, the advertising community has also taken it among themselves to spread awareness about it, and they have been doing a wonderful job! I would like to end my part of this discussion by showing you an Indian detergent advertisement that has demonstrated the importance of involving men in the discussion around gender equality in unpaid labor.

Thank you and I look forward to furthering discussions on these topics.


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