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Mayuravarshini Mohana
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It is not an exaggeration to say that classrooms shape the world. What a child learns at school will influence individual perception of the world and ultimately behaviour. Just as classrooms are credited with imparting civic responsibilities, health and hygiene awareness and rational thinking, these very portals of education propagate rigid ideas on gender binary. The prevalent social discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is largely due to the rigid gender binary and heteronormative system internalised at schools. Practising gender equality in schools is the need of the hour.

Gender equality paves way for an inclusive environment where children get an opportunity to understand themselves and each other. The first step towards equality is inclusivity. It is important to know that gender is not a binary but a spectrum. Creating a classroom that does not acknowledge this discriminates against children who fall outside the gender binary. They might feel embarrassed and might try to repress their true selves to fit in. Such an environment will only prove counterintuitive to the purpose of the education system.

There is a jaundiced attitude towards individuals who challenge heteronormativity. Such children are often subject to conversion therapy in a bid to ‘cure’ them. A logical first step towards equality would be to include LGBTQ+ awareness subjects in school curriculum. While much misunderstanding and misconception prevails around the community, it would be nearly impossible to achieve equality until a comprehensive awareness of various genders and sexuality is achieved in age appropriate manner.

Education must be accompanied by adopting gender inclusive practices. This includes
1.Avoiding the assumption a child’s gender identity.
2.Creating ‘safe zones’ where children are comfortable expressing their true self. The space should make the child feel at ease and not fear judgement.
3.Avoiding gender stereotypes and phrases like ‘Don’t cry like a girl’ or ‘Man-up’.
4.Not assuming that all children are heterosexual. This would avoid affirming heteronormativity.

Gender equality and inclusivity go hand in hand. To uphold equality only within the gender binary is to adjust the existing gender hierarchy instead of dismantling it. What is achieved this way can never be true equality. While adopting inclusivity, classrooms can be made gender equal by trashing biases and offering equal opportunity to every individual. Children must be introduced to role models whose identities fall across the gender spectrum. Sexist practices followed in books, poems or other forms of media must be called out and discussed in class. This way, classrooms can lead the world towards a future where gender parity is no longer a dream but reality.