The Gender Canyon

Contributed by: Chandni Mathur
Dated: 21st August, 2013

Issues related to gender have been very close to my heart. During my teenage years, something about the issues related to gender used to draw me toward them. Luckily, I grew up in a family where no particular gender has an upper hand or is the dictator of the family. In my family, we women outnumber men. All of us have had an equal right and equal say in most of the decisions we had to take… even the kids of the family have that right. So, I basically grew up in an environment where all of us were treated equally. Till I was a kid, I believed that this is the way how everyone around me is… but I was mistaken, and the reality hit me only after I stepped into the world  and became aware of things going on in and around me.

Seeing the kids on the street or slums, their attitude towards the opposite sex – all of this is becoming a  senseless tradition. People themselves wouldn’t know why they are behavingin a certain manner or why they have a different attitude when it comes to the opposite sex. If you ever ask them, there are chances that you may get a reply like, “aisa hi hota aa raha hai” or “Humare ghar mein aisa hi hota hai”. In all this ruckus of the reason for the action, what we don’t realize is that all these age old practices are affecting the younger lot and how. There were a few instances that took place sometime back as a reminder of this harsh fact of our society.

Last week when I was driving back from work I saw a family going in the car next to mine. The father was driving and the mother was sitting next to the driving seat along with her son while the young daughter was sitting alone on the backseat of the car looking very sad. Since we all were stuck in the traffic jam and the car was next to my vehicle we could see each other clearly. I just smiled at the little girl in the car and she smiled back and then we had our little moment of fun (making funny faces at each other) the little girl looked really happy (I can’t forget her smile) the traffic moved and her car moved ahead. She couldn’t see me but I could see her and the sad forlorn look was back.  It  seemed as if  the  parents weren’t at all giving her the kind of attention they were giving their elder son. I do not know what the reason was but  It looked like an instance of  passive discrimination that exists in many of the families.

I witnessed another instance of this gender canyon a week later…. I was scheduled to go with my team for a session… It was our (KHEL team’s) first session at one of the institutions we have recently partnered with. It again drove my thoughts back to the issue of the gender canyon.   As, we began conducting  the session there was a visible gender barrier. All the girls standing on one side together and the boys on the other side, both refused to hold hands while making a circle.  Even on coaxing them to stand next to each other they didn’t. While playing football the boys started commenting that this is not the sports for girls, “ arre ladkiyan kahan khel sakti hain football. Yeh nahi maar payengi” and I was happy to see that the girls proved them wrong, they showed them that they can also play equally well. I was happy by the fact that girls did prove them wrong but it also saddened me to see the gender divide in such small children. However, this instance made me to take it as a challenge to bridge the gender gap (which is also one of the objectives of our organization).

Later, when we discussed the session, I was told that this has been the case in almost all the partner institutions that we worked with. Since I had joined later, KHEL had already bridged the divide so it was not apparent to me. Fortunately, since that first session at the new partner, today, just 8 sessions later, the boys and girls are not just playing together but have started to become supportive and encouraging even for members of the opposite sex! Seeing this change come about in front of my own eyes has been so heartening and even though this is something difficult to measure, I for one, am now a staunch believer in the power of sports that we at ProjectKHEL use to break down these kind of barriers.

On reflection , I realized that we can’t blame the children for the way they think – because this is what they are seeing in their formative years; watching their elder’s attitude towards a particular sex. We don’t realize but this is the way they learn the stigmas and the norms which get internalized. Though on the surface it might not be visible but it is very deep rooted.

I hope and wish that someday we all get rid of this divide and have a society where everyone looks above all these petty things and cross the gender divide. I am quite proud of the fact that I come from a family, where both the genders are given equal

rights in every sense and lucky enough  to work in an organization which breaks the conventional thoughts and ideas of people regarding gender divide and roles. ProjectKHEL is itself an example of breaking the conventional thought process. We are a team of 11 members and out of these 11, there are only 4  males The rest of us are girls and 2 of the girls are national level sportswomen. Though some of us girls are not sportswomen, we are encouraged to be sporty and play as well as the boys. We are not allowed to just teach the children life-skills and thematic sessions but are expected to participate equally in teaching of sports skills thus setting an example for our beneficiaries. This is one of the things I just love about KHEL.

I have a strong belief that with our constant endeavors one day, we will be able to bridge the gender canyon and make the world a more liveable and a loveable place for women.