By Naomi Menezes, International Representative (India)
Stereotyping is deeply rooted in our veins. We may understand the concept, actively try to avoid it, but unconsciously, we end up categorising the people we meet; based on their interests, opinions, attire, likings etc.
However, the buck doesn’t stop there. We have come to categorise people on the basis of gender as well. Gender stereotyping is the most common aspect that parents and teachers unknowingly ingrain into the minds of children.
Boys don’t cry. Girls can’t play football. These are some of the popular stereotypes that still prevail. This exposure to assigning a gender interest - be it is toys, emotions or career choices - is harmful to children especially adolescents. They grow up to believe that they have limitations due to their gender.
To break this code of unconscious biases and gender stereotypes, Prajya Sharma set up We Rise – a not-for-profit that strives to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 (Gender Equality by empowering youth to stand up and lead the movement for Planet 50-50).
She believes that laying the foundation of recognising and standing up against gender inequity at home and in our communities must be instilled at an early stage among youth. The organisation aims to create awareness among the youth about the issues of gender equality and female health that is not openly addressed in our society.
In a candid conversation with Prajya, we learned the what, whys, and hows of her organisation
What inspired you to work towards the issue of gender sensitisation?
I faced stereotypes when I entered the corporate workforce in 2015. A senior partner who led the energy consulting practice at my former company denied me a spot on his team as ‘working in energy sector requires extensive travel in remote areas and females are not suited for this job.’ It took me 6 months to dispel this stereotype and convince the lead to include me in the team. The idea of starting We Rise stemmed from this incident – I decided to work towards fostering a gender equal mindset among people.
How has your journey been so far?
My journey was very similar, yet very different from that of any social entrepreneur – I made a leap of faith based on my instincts & passion and founded We Rise. I had no prior knowledge of this sector nor any training – this posed to be our biggest challenge in establishing credibility for our non-profit in the sector and convincing NGOs/schools to partner with us. With the guidance from our advisory board, we launched promotional drives, conducted introductory workshops and after 2 months, we collaborated with our first partner – Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha from West Delhi. This led to our first gender sensitisation session for over 200 adolescents. Since then, the journey has only been upwards and unstoppable.
What has been the most difficult moment in your journey? How did you manage to not quit?
I think the biggest decision that I took was to continue with my full-time job and start a not-for-profit. This called for cutting down on movie and Netflix time and committing to an 11-hour work day. The challenge lied in managing and doing justice to both my jobs. However, every time we (the team at We Rise) receive a kudos from teachers and parents for our workshops and receive positive feedback from our beneficiaries, it motivates us to keep going. When we launched, I expected some resistance towards our efforts, but the parents and teachers have been truly encouraging.
Who are your beneficiaries and what has been We Rises’ impact to date?
From 2017, we have been able to reach out to 1 050 students across Delhi. We have collaborated with Teach For India to conduct workshops in all their North Delhi Centers. We are proud to share that 82% of our participants have reported an increase in understanding of gender biases and inequity post our workshops on gender sensitization. As a part of our pilot, we have successfully conducted 6 gender sensitisation workshop and 2 on menstrual hygiene. 65% of the girls have reported gaining clarity on the biological process of menstruation for the first time during these sessions.
I am humbled to be facilitated by UN Women as a ‘Young Leader in Peacebuilding’ in 2017 on the International Youth Day for my work in WeRise. This only reassures us of the endless possibilities still waiting to be achieved in building a better, more equal society.
How do you ensure that each workshop successfully delivers the message?
We focus on designing interactive experiential-based learning modules and programs for adolescents. Our programs are not driven by lectures, but activities, group discussions, games, role plays, and most importantly self-assessment exercises.
“Does our gender determine the kind of work we can do?”
“Why don’t boys like to wear pink?”
“What is the difference between equity and equality?”
These are few of the questions we address during our workshops on gender sensitisation. We have carefully designed our workshops to be divided them into three parts:
1. Kahi Suni - In the introductory session, we discuss the unconscious biases that are prevalent in the society and how they inform our outlook
2. Choupal - The concept behind Choupal is to facilitate open discussions amongst the youth on such issues related to gender equality and the need for equity in our society.
3. Badhao Kadam - In our final segment, we discuss how the youth can bring about a change through actions and advocacy in our homes and communities.
This ensures the active participation of each student while providing them with a platform to voice their opinions, questions, and learn from their peers.
What do you believe will disrupt this sector in the next 5 years?
Gender sensitisation – the slow and gradual shift from a male-biased/male-centric narrative to a more inclusive and equitable approach in media advertisements, school curriculum, children story books etc. is enough to ensure that the next generation grows up with a gender-progressive mindset and not riddled with biases.
Menstruation – Technology. Tech-enabled interventions; starting from medical consultations through e-platforms, awareness through social media to advanced machinery and automation to achieve economies of scale in the production of sanitary pads.
For more information about We Rise, visit their website.