Role of Lifelong Learning for Gender Mainstreaming in India

Sruthi JS July 11, 2012

Image Credit: The Hunger Project


Gender, according to the definition given by United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women1, refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a women or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

Gender Mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy for promoting gender equality. According to UNESCO, mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

Self defense classes to urban women go a long way in increasing their mobility and to fend off the ever increasing violence against the urban women.

In India, Gender Mainstreaming is mostly done through policies for Women Empowerment which involve awareness raising, building self confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources and actions to transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality. When it comes to Gender Mainstreaming, the major focus of lifelong Learning should not be on the typical criterion of disadvantage, but on the disadvantages perpetrated by the system on the individual. Women with children of different ages, other dependents and part time jobs will find it hard to fix a rigid schedule for further learning than their formal education. Women returners from other countries who plan to rebuild their lives might find it hard to adjust to the system soon. Being married or co-habiting certainly puts a limitation on the mobility of the individual, not to mention women with low paid jobs or those at the base of the occupational hierarchy. Thus, lack of access to lifelong learning is associated with a range of barriers: structural, organizational, institutional, and attitudinal, as well as women’s own attitudes and the distribution of labor and finances within households. Many older women describe the ways in which the learning opportunities available to them were limited by local employment, social expectations as to what was appropriate or by a ‘forced altruism’ with respect to family commitment. It is clear that, to make sense of individual’s learning histories, it is necessary to understand the ways in which learning opportunities were understood when decisions over participation were being made. Not only that, there should be frequent counseling sessions given to the needy male members of the family and a regular supplement of personality development courses for women who embark on Lifelong Learning, but lack adequate support. Self defense classes to urban women go a long way in increasing their mobility and to fend off the ever increasing violence against the urban women. Thus, Lifelong Learning for women is not only about skill and personality development, but also about enabling them to combat gender and situational specific stress and frustration.

It is in this context that we must take a look at the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, where it is specifically mentioned that though there have been significant strides and efforts, there still exists a wide gap between the goals enunciated in the Constitution, legislation, policies, plans, programmes, and related mechanisms on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India, on the other. It calls for Gender sensitive curricula at all levels of the educational system in order to address sex stereotyping. Although various institutional mechanisms as well as action plans have been discussed in the policy, there seems to be a bracketing of women as chunk into socially unprivileged/poor groups rather than addressing the diversity that exists between a woman who has no basic education to a woman who feels trapped in her high profile job, trying to balance career and home. It is in this context that we must acknowledge the inadequacy of the institutionalized education system in India. Diversity is a social aspect of Indian society. It is so churned officially and politically but could not lift the marginal groups prominently in the main stream of development. Thus education can be evaluated in two levels that are formal education and non-formal education. Non-formal education is also very significant because it brings up those who are being excluded, in the process of development.

Although various institutional mechanisms as well as action plans have been discussed in the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, there seems to be a bracketing of women as chunk into socially unprivileged/poor groups rather than addressing the diversity that exists between a woman who has no basic education to a woman who feels trapped in her high profile job, trying to balance career and home.

Now, let us consider in brief, the impact of globalization on the Indian woman. We have change of an extent and rapidity which is historically unprecedented and really creates implications which we really don’t even have time to study - because the process is over before we even realise that it’s occurred, including the volatility of income and the opportunities which can be availed. For the quintessential urban woman, there is a decline in earlier more traditional forms of protection based on family and community groups and simultaneously decline in public forms of protection, which can be gathered from how stereotypes of women are portrayed in the media and how trying to reinforce them. From the shift in the consumption pattern to the ideals of beauty, from CSR to the retreat of Govt from its responsibilities, women’s movements have had to accommodate the effects of globalization.

It is in this scenario that we must consider what Lifelong Learning can do to help with the process of Gender Mainstreaming in India. The Hyderabad Statement on Adult and Lifelong Learning envisions that ‘Lifelong learning is necessary to empower people… The context of the changing global economy, the new information revolution, imperatives of human development including fighting poverty and the importance of promoting values and the practice of democracy, justice and tolerance define the purpose and content of lifelong learning… Learning at all levels should aim to achieve the goals of equity, equality, human dignity and gender justice.’

Let us consider the role of NGOs in this. NGOs have a deeper reach than Governmental programmes when it comes to targeted issues, especially with women. Take a Case Study on the Kusumpur Pahadi slum, located on a hillock in South Delhi. Mainly because of its accessibility and proximity to several research organizations and NGO’s, Kusumpur Pahadi has been attracting the attention of several developmental workers, activists and researchers. As such, there is no dearth of learning opportunities. But according to the study, all the women were unanimous that the general quality of programmes attended by them was poor. They felt that the approach of the organisers was very casual and programmes were implemented in an adhoc manner, often with long gaps during the programmes leading to dropouts. Whatever skills they learnt did not equip them for taking up income generation activities independently or seeking wage employment. Most of them mentioned that the organisers rarely tried to identify the needs and interest of participants, nor was there any follow-up after the implementation of programmes. There was not only disillusionment with the charity approach followed by the programme organisers but also aversion to development functionaries. In spite of their frustration the women were keen to explore the possibilities of participating in new programmes which could equip them with marketable skills and enhance their knowledge. They had an intense desire to improve their quality of life. The NGO Mobile Creche started a training programme for women and soon many were finding that they needed to upgrade many other skills to complete the training. Likewise, the Community Learning Centres, which are community based learning organized and managed by people themselves, go a long way in helping and empowering women. Since, they are established with the aim of providing an infrastructure and an institutional base for lifelong education, they are flexible enough to accommodate the regional as well as class variations and other diversities. But the CLCs and NGOs are mainly restrained to the rural and urban poor. As mentioned before, the new independent, working women, essentially urban, find it extremely hard to find their true potential while juggling modernity with tradition. While we see some women engage in further skill development and expanding their horizon, many are stuck in a rut dug by the society. Religion, class and caste are also major factors, which affect the quality of lifelong learning and gender mainstreaming. Given the paucity of data, particularly gender-disaggregated data, on caste (and communal) issues, interventions should be preceded by both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the target or participating populations, to ensure that resources are not being concentrated among already privileged groups. This is particularly important where there is regional and spatial separation of different caste (or communal) groups.

Women in Governance, especially with the advent of reservation, have contributed a lot to encouraging other women to come out and develop their potential.

When we begin to analyze how women can benefit from lifelong learning, we must understand why this focus is important. Before and immediately after the prevailing attitude toward education privileging boys’ education; girls were kept at home to look after smaller brothers and sisters. Thus, as soon as the opportunity was made available to them, women were so enthusiastic about learning and changing the course of their life; the joy they experience as they go to their literacy course was a daily exhilaration. This can be coupled with the impact of Maslow’s hierarchal theory of needs and the constant struggle of humans for self-actualization. For every person, the path of self-actualization is different. This course of path is directed towards our ideal selves, the person that one wants to be. It is imperative that women be given the opportunity to find and pursue the path in order to empower themselves. Lifelong Learning is an essential tool in this process since at times it can lend a guidance and choice to the women. It gives them the ability to gain access to new ideas and opportunities and makes the women more confident and able decision makers.

The inequalities in the level and type of education and training that women receive, when compared to men are huge. Especially since some groups of women are more disadvantaged than the others, with their male family members playing a huge part in what sort of learning they should take up. Women are also keener to take up learning which would be related to personal development and those which would help them in caring for others’ needs. In addition, women educated to degree level are more likely to receive training than those with fewer qualifications.

Women in Governance, especially with the advent of reservation, have contributed a lot to encouraging other women to come out and develop their potential. This has increased de jure, but not necessarily de facto, participation. There is need to encourage women’s participation in other kinds of groups and associations, which contribute, to an atmosphere of leadership by women, as well as supporting training and networking for elected women. The factors that limit women’s effective participation, apart from their own inexperience need to be identified and addressed. Mahila Sabhas (or equivalent women’s groups) should be encouraged to articulate and facilitate the raising of women’s concerns and priorities in meetings of Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas. The provision of Women’s Component Plan may be provided in the budgets of local self-governance institutions like PRIs and urban local bodies and more subjects be transferred to them. Such training and Lifelong Learning of women leaders in turn encourage mainstreaming by the co-participation of both men and women.

The Government has done a lot to engender data collection. This can become a source to propagate massive waves of continuous projects in lifelong Learning, targeted for specific communities as it suits them. This can be done at the micro level with the devolution of power to the Panchayati Raj institutions where the need for gender budgeting at the grassroots level needs to be recognized. We need to adopt the lifelong Learning and skill development training programmes, which have successfully been implemented in other developing countries like Sri Lanka, Peru, Brazil, etc. On the macro level, in addition to the State and National policies, we need to incorporate the help of various developmental agencies as well. Gender Mainstreaming in the media is another facet, which has to be explored. Nowadays, when more and more women are becoming actively interested in media, not only should gender be included in curricula of art, drama and journalism schools, but there have to be more courses as those offered by the Continuing Education Centres to enable their transition to and train them sufficiently. They must be ready to realize the engendering of depiction of women in media and effect a positive change.

Nowadays, when more and more women are becoming actively interested in media, not only should gender be included in curricula of art, drama and journalism schools, but there have to be more courses as those offered by the Continuing Education Centres to enable their transition to and train them sufficiently.

Hence, the role of Lifelong Learning in empowering women and promoting gender mainstreaming includes improving the attractiveness of and access to Lifelong Learning, starting with basic skill training for low-skilled women, disadvantaged and marginalized sections. Programs should focus on motivating individual learners to commit to learning, including through guidance services, out-reach strategies, awareness raising campaigns, validation of non-formal and informal learning, appropriate teaching and learning approaches and partnerships with enterprises, CLCs and NGOs; using ICT, e-learning and the media to widen access, developing alternative learning approaches to integrate or reintegrate the women who have stopped developing their potential midway. It is also necessary to develop attractive methods and incentives to encourage more participation of men and encourage them to support their women in areas where they are underrepresented. It is imperative that men understand that when women become more empowered, it is the whole family which gets empowered.

References

  1. G Sandhya Rani, Women’s Education in India an Analysis, Asia-Pacific Journal of Social Science, Jan-June 2010.
  2. Aggarwal, V S, Lifelong Learning: The Challenge in Context of India, Research Journal of Social Science and Management, Feb 2012.
  3. Patel, Ila, Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning in India.
  4. Bacchus, N, The Effect of Globalization on Women in Developing Nations.
  5. Gender Mainstreaming Factsheets, United Nations .
  6. The Hyderabad Statement on Adult and Lifelong Learning.
  7. BR Siwal, Gender Auditing of Various Sectors in India, Syndicate for Gender Mainstreaming.
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Interesting article. I agree

Interesting article. I agree with most of the practical suggestions, if not on all of the theorization undertaken to arrive there. In the interest of pushing forward with this extremely relevant discssion, I am sharing a couple of critical observations

Gender (..) refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes.

Whie I am comfortable with the notion of "sex" vs "gender" - but this social constrctivist line (much in favor post-structuralist academics) seems to deny any role for a biologically determined sex (Male, Female, Bi, Trans) in deriving gender. How can that be logical?

When it comes to Gender Mainstreaming, the major focus of lifelong Learning should not be on the typical criterion of disadvantage, but on the disadvantages perpetrated by the system on the individual

This system vs individual dichotomy is flawed in my opinion, it extinnguishes collective or shared identities. Not just class, but also that of gender! Doesnt ths contradict the above defintion?

Programs should focus on motivating individual learners to commit to learning, including through guidance services, out-reach strategies, awareness raising campaigns, validation of non-formal and informal learning, appropriate teaching and learning approaches and partnerships with enterprises, CLCs and NGOs; using ICT, e-learning and the media to widen access, developing alternative learning approaches to integrate or reintegrate the women who have stopped developing their potential midway. It is also necessary to develop attractive methods and incentives to encourage more participation of men and encourage them to support their women in areas where they are underrepresented. It is imperative that men understand that when women become more empowered, it is the whole family which gets empowered.

While in general positive suggestions, I somehow feel underwelmed :( I believe it is impossible to underrtake any meaningful "provisioning" of lifelong learning for gender mainstreaming unless it explicity acknowledges the tri-fold yokes of class-gender-caste oppression and expresses a commitment to use adult/life long education as a tool to understand and fight it. This shoud be the basis of a progressive and radical pedagogy and people's education policy.

At the very least, we shoud talk about these initiatives in the context of contributions of people like Freire (who wrote the famous "Pedagogy of the oppressed"). If anyone's intersted I can fwd some links on how critical pedagogy has marched forward in Latin America. It's a must read to devise similar efforts in India and South Asia.

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