18 Mar 2017 16:00 IST

The importance of gender sensitivity

It is all about getting rid of wrong notions and perceptions of the opposite gender

International Women’s Day just went by (March 8) and amidst all the celebrations, there was a strong undercurrent of a sentiment — that it is still not enough. Enough has been written about issues faced by women and their security, and I do not want to rehash the same points. Instead, I would like you to turn your attention to a related aspect — about gender sensitivity.

Being sensitive is, very simply put, being appreciative of others’ feelings. In that context, gender sensitivity is about being considerate of the opposite gender’s feelings. The reason this is important is because men and women think differently, and obviously, have varying perspectives.

Be open

The first and most important aspect of gender sensitivity is to be open to the perspective and feelings of any colleague of the opposite gender. This could be a simple case of knowing enough about their personal issues to more nuanced understanding of gender-specific aspects such as comments or jokes that could be offensive.

Although there is an increasing awareness about this topic, and organisations have started to define the limits of behaviour, the onus is still with an individual. Increasingly, men and women have started working together in managerial roles and unless there is a mutual sense of respect and comfort, teams will not be effective.

What schools don’t teach

Unfortunately, such inclusive behaviour as gender sensitivity is not taught to the majority. Our education system does not help at all.

Many schools and even colleges are not co-educational, and students end up interacting only with people of their own gender. This happens throughout their formative years, which then creates a skewed behavioural pattern in both men and women. It is only during higher education that the two sexes interact with one another. And invariably, such interactions are stilted and forced.

Anyone can validate this statement — just see class where male and female students sit in separate and well demarcated groups. Unfortunately, such segregation only ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes. Instead, the focus should be on teaching these young students about interacting with each other as persons and individuals.

Films: reinforcing stereotypes

Films just make gender stereotyping worse. Many movies in our country tend to show the hero indulging in highly objectionable and condemnable behaviour in the form of teasing the heroine, stalking her, troubling her, or all the three. Ideally, such scenes should carry a disclaimer similar to the kind displayed during smoking or drinking — “Such behaviour is illegal and punishable with fine and/or imprisonment”.

Invariably, the female lead ends up falling in love with the male actor. These stories send out a dangerous and wrong signal that such behaviour is acceptable. Unfortunately, in the absence of any such counter messaging, the hero’s behaviour is often taken to be a reference point with regard to male:female interactions.

Gender sensitivity is all about getting rid of wrong notions and perceptions, as well as learning to interact with the opposite gender. The sooner this is learnt and practised, the better.

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