India is notorious for having many issues dealing with the unfair treatment of women and girls. Especially where I am currently, in Kolkata, the disparity between men and women is large. Working on gender equality is something that I am very passionate about and believe that it is something very important. While the topic of gender equality is challenging for all ages, I find that it is easiest to talk to children, whose minds are still open and receptive to new ideas.Today I started a discussion, at New Light, with around 20 children aged 5-10.
I started by giving a special coloring page to each kid. Thanks to artist Nina Hartman, we have a set of 10 coloring pages that combine Indian culture with gender equality themes. There are thousands of copies of these pages and crayons stored in the library, for use anytime and by anyone. Today, the kids and I focused on the page that says "Women can do anything" and has a picture of a female cricket player, a favorite sport here.
Next, the kids enjoyed coloring in the page. As they colored I asked them questions. It started simply like "do you guys like cricket?" and "do any of you play cricket?". Questions like this got them excited and drew their attention in. They all talked and enjoyed thinking about the sport. Then I moved into more thought-provoking questions like "who is playing cricket in the picture?" and "can a woman play cricket?". That question created a discussion among the children. Some said yes that women can, and many said that women can't. After this, the children couldn't come to a conclusion, so I let them finish their pages and re-introduced the topic later in the afternoon.
In the afternoon, I set up a projector with a slideshow of women and girls playing sports. It started with soccer, moved into rugby and ended with cricket. These are all male-dominated sports, especially here in India. I showed this to the kids and they were all amazed! Most of them had not seen females in sports, and it helped all the kids come to the conclusion that yes women can play cricket and that women can do anything!
It was really wonderful to see the kids organically come to that conclusion, rather than an adult stating just that women can, and not giving an adequate explanation. In the future, the library will be a space where gender norms are challenged and a place where people can learn and grow. I can't wait to see the librarian and other adults conduct activities like this one.