Gender Bias and son preference

Breakthrough under its GBSS (Gender Biased Sex Selection) program has started community mobalisation activities in Rohtak, Jhajjar, Panipat and Sonipat districts of Haryana. With an aim to improve community’s knowledge, attitude and perceptions towards gender based discrimination, GBSS project initiated to disseminate knowledge and build awareness of community members, college youth and frontline medical workers and other stakeholders like government to change community’s perceptions and overall mindset towards gender based discrimination. The community members of intervention districts were involved through mela’s (Natak) which highlights the issue of gender based discrimination and sex selection. The mela (Natak) aim is improve knowledge of community members through a medium (street theatre) – more popular and well understood by locals. During these Nataks, community participants showed encouraging presence and interest to learn about issues of gender discrimination and sex selection and role of socially conceived norms towards enforcing gender based discriminatory practices and patriarchal mindset.

Communities like these are usually not open to change and breaking socially conceived norms and discriminatory practices is highly challenging, needs much more effort than a Natak, though Natak has set a begging of efforts initiated by Breakthrough. The Natak, highlighted broad inequalities women are facing in Haryana related to education, mobility, choice of marriage, participation in decision making, discrimination related to reproductive health rights and issues of sex selection (community members show high desire and preference for a baby boy). While talking to a group of community women regarding their learning’s from Natak to know its effectiveness of delivery, accuracy of messages, a community woman shared some interesting details about her learning’s from the play as to how this piece of knowledge has helped to improve her perceptions and attitude towards gender discrimination. During discussion, not only did this lady mention that women and girls of her locality face discrimination in terms of mobility, choice of marriage, education and issue of sex selection (this leads to discrimination of post natal health care, food and clothes for the mother and child). Also, she talked and opposed gender stereotypes and issues of mobility, like use of mobile phones wearing jeans by girls. Contradicting to two group discussion women participants, she mentioned use of mobile phones by girls as a safety measure especially in case of emergencies. One of her significant remark was about ‘rape’, this rural woman of Haryana challenged that the dress of a woman (wearing jeans etc.) has any role in violating her modesty and leading to rape.  Questioning the ill fetched and gender biased mind set, she said, “if wearing jeans provokes men for rape, then why is a five year old girl raped”? This thinking and attitude towards gender discrimination is not encouraging and itself a landmark in changing community perceptions, as the society around this mind set is patriarchal and deep rooted socially constructed norms. As a suggestion towards changing people’s mind set, she emphasized to engage more men into such dialogues and more often, given their interest compared to women. As quoted, “men don’t learn in one time, they need to be taught three times, they consider women not equal to men hence discriminate”. This statement besides level of willingness to learn and male dominance, in a disparaging way hints about passive engagement of men towards reducing gender discrimination.  She reiterated that such programs (like Natak) need to organise more often as women feel shy and less confident to discuss with their male counterparts about gender discrimination and issues of sex selection. Her concluding remarks were like, “there is a great need and role of such events if we talk of changing mind sets”.

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