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Breaking through discriminatory gender attitudes of adolescents in India (Taaron Ki Toli)

By Malcolm Spence, Investment Director, and Kathi Hanifnia, Investment Associate  |   Posted 28th January 2021

GIF is partnering with Breakthrough, an Indian non-profit addressing gender inequality and violence against women in India as our third investment under our Innovating for Gender Equality Fund, following grants to No Means No Worldwide and StrongMinds. The GIF funding will allow Breakthrough to scale its innovation, Taaron ki Toli (TKT), a gender equality curriculum delivered to students between the ages of 11 and 14, and designed to change gender equality outcomes through changing boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards gender roles, their aspirations, and subsequently their behaviours.

GIF’s $890,000 grant funding will enable Breakthrough to scale TKT across 4,500 government schools in Punjab by integrating TKT within existing curricula and equipping teachers through a training of trainers (TOT) model to deliver these across the state. Breakthrough will also conduct a pilot in 100 schools in Odisha to put into place the conditions for a state-wide scale-up. J-PAL South Asia will conduct a process evaluation to generate insights on the attitudinal changes for adolescents, and document learning on how such innovations can be most effectively delivered and scaled.
There is a vast manifestation of gender inequality globally. Gender gaps tend to favour men and are more pronounced in developing countries, where poverty and gender inequality create a vicious cycle. India stands out for unequal opportunities and outcomes for women across early marriage, gender-based violence, and labour force participation. For example, UN Women Data shows 27.3 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 were first married or in union before the age of 18. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further exacerbated challenges faced by women and girls.

There is increasing recognition, for example in the 2019 Human Development Report, that there are limits to addressing these widespread structural inequalities without working to address the underlying beliefs and attitudes which sustain them. For example, 59 percent of women and 41 percent of men in Odisha, and over 30 percent of women and men in Punjab, agree that a husband is sometimes justified to beat his wife. Over 17 percent of respondents in Odisha also believe that a wife is not justified in refusing sex with her husband. Attitudes, alongside norms, are a key factor driving people’s behaviours, and, if sufficiently many individuals change their beliefs a “tipping point” may be reached that shifts societal gender norms.

As such, an affirmative intervention at the right time, which can effectively change people’s attitudes towards gender, can play a powerful role in addressing gender inequality. Early adolescence, in particular, is a period of identity formation when attitudes are malleable and are therefore a promising point of entry for such programmes.

Breakthrough’s TKT curriculum is explicitly focused on tackling preconceived ideas of gender, in contrast to other interventions which focus on how gender inequalities manifest through violence or a lack of access to education, employment or reproductive health services. It is designed to develop and enhance the psychological, interpersonal, and social skills of adolescents and increase self-awareness and confidence by making them aware of their rights and entitlements by using games, songs, drawing and other activities to discuss topics such as gender stereotypes, gender roles at home, girls’ education, women’s employment outside the home, and harassment.

TKT is backed by rigorous evidence from a randomised controlled trial by J-PAL in Haryana showing its positive impact on adolescents’ gender attitudes and behaviours. Attitudinal changes towards female employment, gender roles and girls’ education contribute most the students’ overall shift towards more support for gender equality, while changes in behaviour are driven by the boys’ decision to do more household chores and encourage female relatives to pursue higher education and careers.

To date, over 500,000 adolescents have engaged with TKT across four states in India. With GIF’s funding, Breakthrough aims to reach over 1.4 million more adolescents over a 30-months period that we expect will equip adolescents’ girls with a stronger sense of self, enable adolescent boys to make changes to their behaviours and become advocates for gender equality, and create spaces for dialogue on how to improve gender equality in families and schools across the state. GIF funding will also generate and disseminate learning on scaling gender equality programmes through government schools to catalyse wider replication across states in India. This work is part of a wider movement on gender equality and we hope it can contribute to a generational shift in gender norms which will ultimately lead to more agency for women over decisions in the family as well as better outcomes in education and employment.