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How Can we Make Schools More Gender-Inclusive?

Before we deep-dive into the super-interesting tips our students and educators have for you, let's start with the basics.

What is a gender-inclusive school?

Simply put, a gender-inclusive school is one where all gender representations are seen in all aspects of the running of a school, from its rules and regulations to its infrastructure.

Why should schools be gender-inclusive?

A common argument opposing gender-inclusive schools is that these measures only cater to students of the LGBTQIA+ community.

However, research indicates otherwise.

Studies of school and college students show that a lack of gender-inclusive policies in school lead them to develop prejudices about trans students, as well as stereotypes about male and female genders, not limited to the ability and intelligence differences between genders.

These beliefs only solidify as students enter adulthood, leading to a cycle of a lack of constructive conversations about gender.

How can schools be gender-inclusive?

There are several methods that schools can adopt on the path to gender-inclusivity. We asked students and educators to share their tips, and largely, gender-inclusive measures can be divided into 3 categories:

Changes in rules and policies

The first step to a change in rules and policies is to orient school staff to these changes. As Shounak Morris, a grade 12 educator at Shiv Nadar School Noida shares,

"Schools can promote gender inclusivity by implementing gender-neutral policies and facilities, providing comprehensive sex education that covers diverse identities, and offering support services for LGBTQ+ students. Training staff in recognizing and addressing gender-based discrimination and creating safe spaces where students feel respected and supported are crucial steps toward building an inclusive school environment for all genders."

Nivrrithi, an 8th grader studying in Chettinad Harishree Vidyashram, Chennai also highlights the importance of normalizing discussions around gender-inclusivity, not just in staff, but at a school level.

"The first step to be more gender inclusive is to normalize the topic itself, not among the school management or board, but among the students. By breaking down stereotypes and discouraging derogatory language, schools can create an environment where terms like "those activists 🙄” or “anti-feminists” no longer carry negative meanings. This is imperative in ensuring that, when gender-inclusive measures are taken, the students are receptive towards it instead of viewing it as an imposition from authority."

Ananya, a 12th grader also highlights the role that uniforms play in perpetuating gender inequality at schools.

"I think more than being gender inclusive, schools should first start and try to be gender equal. There's still so many cases of girls being shamed for 'distracting boys' in class rooms with an open hairstyle, or a shorter skirt. I think that, that is completely wrong and something that needs to be worked upon. I think gender neutral uniforms are a MUST have. I have so many friends who are uncomfortable in the uniform assigned to them according to their gender and would rather wear the uniform of the opposite sex because it makes them feel more comfortable. Having the choice to wear the kind of clothing that you want would make school a much warmer place for students."

Changes in the language we use

Next up is making sure that our communication with students and parents is more inclusive. Starting from simple things like the way we address students in the classroom, to putting in place practices that reduce gender-based bullying and teasing of students.

Greeshma, a 9th grader from Hyderabad Public School, advises,

"I think that schools should start educating children about gender-inclusive education, maybe an awareness campaign or something that will help change the stereotypes associated with genders."

The goal is to move beyond our understanding of 2 genders, which is what most schools get limited to. As a student explains,

"I'm thankful to be in a school that prioritises feminism and gender equality; however, this seems to be limited to the male and female binaries. While equality workshops and programs do exist, not much is being done to be inclusive towards non-binary genders. Even when gender neutral uniforms, for instance, exist, the goal wasn't really to cater to non-binary students. I think aiming to become more inclusive for all genders in the form of gender neutral uniforms and bathrooms is really important for feminism to be meaningful."

Changes in the way we teach

Last, but not the least, change needs to be made to pedagogic practices and the curricula adopted at schools. Shounak highlights the benefits of such a change, highlighting that "encouraging diverse representation in curriculum materials and extracurricular activities fosters inclusivity."

The first step to this change can also be hosting open dialogues on gender, as Sridatri, a 12th grader from GEMS International School illustrates,

"The first step would be to bridge the gap the genders have by making it more comfortable to talk about their differences and the problems each face. Putting a stop to stereotypes right when they're happening is another crucial step, possibly the biggest one because an environment can never be gender neutral if people still believe and base their behaviours on age old stereotypes and stigmas."

However, Nivrrithi sums it up best, when she illustrates how this change should materialise in schools,

"In essence, it's about empowering students to champion inclusivity themselves, creating a lasting and meaningful change within the school community."

Curated by Team Via News Didi

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