Cooking or Cricket: See How Different Life Is for Girls and Boys in Mumbai

Many in the younger generation are determined to end gender discrimination in India.
Aug 2, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Princi, a 15-year-old girl living in Mumbai, gets up every morning by 9 a.m. to help her mother cook, clean, and wash clothes. Her male classmates, Mohsin and Shakir spend most of their time away from school playing cricket while their mothers and sisters complete all the household chores.

But attitudes are changing for these Indian students, thanks in part to the Gender Equity Movement in Schools. The program was implemented in 45 secondary schools in Mumbai, a city on the Arabian Sea and the world’s most populous urban area. Students in GEMS participate in two years of extracurricular activities designed to change perceptions regarding traditional gender roles, especially when it comes to pitching in around the house.

“If [the girls] are the only ones working at home, what else can they do?” Shakir asks in the video created by the Thomas Reuters Foundation. Since the program began at Shakir’s school, he has gone from doing no housework at all to volunteering to sweep the floors and wash the dishes.

As male children are often valued over female children—they traditionally inherit land and care for parents in their old age—their happiness and education is often prioritized over that of female siblings. Forced to put chores first, girls miss out on the time boys get to spend studying or playing. Literacy rates between men and women vary greatly in India, with only 51 percent of women literate compared with 75 percent of men, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality Index. Men as a group have higher levels of education, which translates into greater participation in the workforce and higher wages.

Seeing more men represented in jobs and professions contributes to a gender bias that is hard to shake. When the teacher asks whether girls have brains, all of the female students shoot their arms into the air immediately, with some of the boys joining reluctantly.

Many such ideas are reinforced at home, the students add.

“Change will only come if parents change,” says Princi, whose parents encourage her studies but still burden her with chores.

Mohsin was encouraged by his mother to play all day and ignore household chores even after he offered to help. He might not being doing the dishes himself, but he is confident the change will come when he imparts his own ideals and practices to his own kids.

“The change will continue with my children,” Mohsin says. “Their generation will end discrimination between boys and girls.”