By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's schools are failing to educate and empower young people to reject deep-rooted gender stereotypes and embrace equality, an expert said, pointing to recent findings highlighting "regressive" attitudes toward women.
The survey of 10,500 high school and college students in 11 cities across India found that more than four in 10 believe that "women have no choice but to accept a certain degree of violence".
More than half said the way women dress and behave provokes male violence, according to the survey by the Children's Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA).
"A large number of young people having such undesirable attitudes toward violence against women - including girls themselves - is alarming," said Manjunath Sadashiva, director and co-founder of the Bangalore-based CMCA.
"These are school-going and college-going students – they’re not uneducated or non-literate people. These are people from cities, not even rural areas... These attitudes that students are displaying are potentially what they are absorbing from society at large, from their families."
In college, 44 percent of men and 36 percent of women say dowry is a practice that they should accept.
India is a conservative, patriarchal country where girls struggle from the moment they are conceived against female foeticide, forced and child marriage, and violence.
Education is meant to teach children critical thinking and act as a shield, so that they do not absorb negative stereotypes from society and their families, Sadashiva said.
The CMCA survey, which also looked at students' attitudes to bribery, rule of law, migrant labor and domestic workers' rights, showed that schools are failing in the "vital goal of humanizing the population and nurturing (students) to become responsible, humane, just citizens", he said.
Half the students surveyed agreed that a woman's main role is to take care of the household and bring up children - even though 71 percent felt women can perform as well as or better than men in all professions.
Sadashiva blamed schools for the students' attitudes.
"Students are not engaging in dialogue. Teachers are very authoritative. That is why we feel young people in schools and colleges continue to hold such negative values and attitudes."
The CMAC was established in 2000 to promote citizenship education, which Sadashiva said needs "total revamping".
"India is the largest democracy in the world and the most complex one in terms of diversity, and we don’t teach civics with the importance it deserves," he said.
The CMAC is calling for a policy addressing citizenship education, which would include issues such as gender, diversity and equality, as well as special training of "democracy educators".
Later this month, it is kickstarting a movement to make India's schools and colleges more democratic and participatory.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Tim Pearce)