Kerala To Remove Sexist Language From Textbooks After Domestic Abuse Reports
Amid a recent spate of deaths allegedly linked to dowry harassment and domestic abuse, the Kerala government on Thursday announced that it would amend school textbooks to remove disparaging words and references to women.
“In light of the recent horrifying incidents of domestic abuse, Kerala has decided to take more stringent measures to create a fair society,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. The government has announced other measures such as launching an online portal called “Aparajitha” and starting a 24×7 helpline to lodge complaints against domestic abuse and violence.
This week, three separate instances of married women found dead under “mysterious” circumstances triggered public outrage; the accused in one case was arrested on dowry death charges.
The cases show the trend of abuse and harassment in India in connection with marriage and dowry. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s data from 2019, a woman becomes a victim of a dowry harassment-related death approximately every hour, and experiences cruelty by her husband and in-laws every four minutes.
With the present announcement, the government plans to “sieve” out sexist portrayals of women in textbooks. “Steps will be taken to turn our schools and colleges into spaces that embrace the idea of gender equality and equal rights,” the chief minister said.
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The move to address the ideological roots of gender-based violence through education is pertinent — to challenge the practice of dowry that is embedded in the patriarchal, sexist culture. Studies have shown that children internalize gender stereotypes by the age of 10, and these put them at greater risk of experiencing violence and other forms of harm depending on what the stereotypes are.
In 2017, a textbook in Maharashtra came under fire for a quote connecting “ugliness” with dowry: “If a girl is ugly and handicapped then it becomes difficult for her to get married. To marry such girls [the] bridegroom and his family demand more dowry,” it read. The same year, a college in Bangalore distributed study material from a textbook that listed seven “advantages of dowry,” which included helping “ugly” girls get married. The Maharashtra government in 2019, however, changed illustrations and texts in its school curriculum to reflect more gender equality.
Another 2017 study of textbooks in India has revealed several examples of gender stereotypes such as those pertaining to the division of labor and objectification of women.
Such content in educational material meant for children and young people serves to reinforce misogynistic practices that ultimately lead to gender-based violence in society. “The world constructed by textbooks was of gender apartheid and seemed to strengthen a patriarchal society,” researchers wrote in a 2012 study.
A growing number of researchers have further pointed to the importance of a gender-inclusive education as a preventive — as opposed to the punitive method to effectively address gender-based violence in India. “Criminalization and so on are all very well… [but] as long as there is the implicit notion of girls as subordinate, as objects, [the violence] won’t stop,” Jacqueline Bhabha, Ph.D., professor of health and human rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, noted.
The measures are aimed at triggering a cultural shift, and specify the need for progressive, equitable values among family and school systems.
If you or anyone you know needs to seek help, please note the national domestic violence helpline number is 1800 102 7282. Other women’s helpline numbers, both national and state-wise, can be found here.