I recently took part in a Clap Talk in a school in Pune, India. The Clap Talk was a 75-minute cultural exchange between me, a foreign national from the UK, and a class of 21 5-6-year-old local children. The aim was to learn about each other’s cultures through interactive dialogue and games.
I expected to learn something, no doubt. How could I not? I’ve always known children of that age to be so open and willing to share and I gathered that meeting someone uncommon to them would be an exciting prospect. What I didn’t expect, however, was to gain such an eye-opening insight into gender roles in India from a boy who had just turned 6.
The conversation was simple, and it went like this.
Students: Miss Lucy! [tosses the question ball high into the air just about managing to catch it on its way back down] Are boys and girls treated differently in your country?
(Note: the question ball is the part of the Clap Talk where students and travellers get the chance to ask each other a bunch of pre-printed questions on a ball which is flung around the classroom. FYI, it’s very fun.)
Me: Oooh, I like that one! Well, in the UK boys and girls are pretty much treated the same both by their parents and their teachers. For example, *notices all girls wearing skirts with plaited hair* In most schools, girls can wear trousers as part of their school uniforms if they want to.
Still me: What about here in India? Are boys and girls treated differently?
By now, I must say, most of the students were squabbling playfully over whose turn it was to throw the question ball. But one boy sitting right under my nose had something to say in response.
Boy: I have a baby brother! I couldn’t wait to change his nappy, but my mother stopped me and told me that this was her job. She said boys don’t need to do that. So now I don’t try.
In all honesty, this comment threw me off guard. I tried to continue the conversation thread but the boy had started colouring. I also had 20 other children who wanted to know everything from how high I could jump, to who were the five people that I love.
So the conversation ended there. Atleast between me and the boy it did.
But in my mind it didn’t. For some reason, I couldn’t shake the answer the boy had given me so nonchalantly.
I’ve heard many times that India is a patriarchal society, but I had assumed that men were behind that. I hadn’t given much thought into a women’s role in India’s patriarchy. The young boy’s comment led me on to thinking how much responsibility women have to raise boys in a way that challenges this system of thought. How much is at stake when women raise boys, especially in India. How much of an individual’s attitudes and beliefs, that pretty much last a lifetime, are shaped at such a young age.
The conversation in my head continued.
Are boys being encouraged to play an active role in the family unit? Are shared responsibilities endorsed at home? Who is deciding that domestic work is only for women? All these important questions stirred from the simple experience of a child at home that I got to hear because of a Clap Talk.
We need to be hearing these sorts of things and these dialogues need to be had. Not necessarily so that we, or I in this experience, can do something about it. But, because these things needs to be heard so that we can begin to move the world towards a better place.
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