Lesson Plans

Teaching Feminism in the World's Poorest Classrooms [10 minute read + lesson ideas]

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A student smiles during a school day at Pardada Pardadi. Image by Annalisa Merelli. India, 2018.

Today's Under-reported Fact:

At least 54% of girls in India's rural Uttar Pradesh region are married before the age of 18.

Introducing the Resource:

Read "The Case for Teaching Girls Feminism in the World's Poorest Classrooms." For a quicker version (approx. 10 minutes), students can read in two groups.

Group 1: Intro
Group 2: From "Human Rights as Education" through end

Students with more time may wish to explore the longform version, "How a School for Poor Girls Cracked the Patriarchy in a Rural Indian Town" (approx. 20 minutes).

Discussion Questions:

  • What barriers to getting an education do girls in Uttar Pradesh face? How does the Pardada Pardadi school help?
  • What does feminism mean to you?
  • Is access to education opportunities unequal in your community? How so? What solutions can you think of?

Activity Ideas:

Option 1. Come up with a recommendation for how your school could expand on efforts to empower young women and/or other marginalized people in your school community. After everyone has presented their recommendations, hold a class vote to choose one to pursue. Then, devise a plan to implement it.

Option 2. Every week on the @pulitzercenter Instagram, one of our grantees takes over the feed to post a different photo from their reporting each day. Examine the following photos posted by Annalisa Merelli during her Instagram takeover, during which she posted behind-the-scenes images from her "Teaching Feminism" project. Choose two photos and read their captions. Write a short reflection comparing and contrasting your own experience with the experience you see.

View Photo #1 on Instagram

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Hello, this is Annalisa Merelli (@missanabeem) taking over the @pulitzercenter account for the week!

I am a reporter @qz, and I will be sharing images from my Pulitzer Center-supported trip to Anupshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India. In March, I traveled there to write about @pardadapardadi a school for poor girls that’s taking down the stubborn patriarchy of its town. When the school started, 17 years ago, it enrolled 45 girls. There are now 1,400 girls a year, who learn feminist principles as part of their everyday curriculum. You can see one of the classes in the first photo; in the second, it’s me with a group of 10th graders—they don’t have smartphones, nor typically do their families, but they know how to take selfies! Sonam (bottom) took this after making fun of my lack of selfie-taking skills.

#India #journalism #education #girlseducation #girlchildrevolution #femaleforward #educationmatters #educationispower #reporting

View Photo #2 on Instagram

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Pardada Pardadi’s school is a full K-12 operation, with girls as young as three. These students come from families who live below the poverty line and can’t even afford the basic cost of sending their daughters to public schools. Even if they could, it’s unlikely they would make the investment in girls, who in the area often work to help support the family and pay for their dowry, and get married off while children. 

This is why @pardadapardadi covers all expenses (including paying for uniforms and stationery) but pays girls 10 rupees a day ($0.15), deposited in an account they can only access after they graduate—it’s more than the money they would have earned working, and to earn it, they had to stay in school instead of getting married. 
From the very beginning, the girls learn the pillar of their education: ladka ladki ek saman, a boy and a girl are equal. These little girls repeat it often, and learn the first elements of gender equality through fables, play, and mottos. (By @missanabeem, posting for the week).

#education #educationmatters #girlseducation #girlchildrevolution #India #femaleforward #genderequality

View Photo #3 on Instagram

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To the left of the photo, Sonam (who is in yesterday’s selfie) with a friend, right by the bicycle she rides to @pardadapardadi every day. She got the bike as a reward for good attendance (so did all the other girls who bike), and that in itself is a big deal: Amongst some communities, there is a stigma against women riding bicycles, and the independence it signals. But Sonam loves her bike and rides it every day five km each way—like a boss.

In the following photos, Sonam is home after school in Madar Gate, her community. Even in a very poor area, this is one of the most disenfranchised. Before girls from the school started attending, there were no toilets in the whole village, or electricity. As an attendance incentive, @pardadapardadiinvested in building public toilets and a solar-powered charging station for lamps, so that girls could read after dark.

If Sonam goes to university (she’s in 10th grade) she will be the first person of Madar Gate to do so, and she’ll be a model to all of the younger kids in the hood, who you see in the last picture, right before they convinced me to dance some Bhangra with them. *

I (Annalisa Merelli @missanabeem, 👋🤛) love the last portrait of Sonam, I think it captures just what a bright, smart badass she is.

#educationmatters #education #india #ruralindia #ruraldevelopment #feminism #genderequality #femaleforward #girlchildrevolution #girleffect

View Photo #4 on Instagram

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The difference between the town outside and the school is amazing. Look at the murals! It’s a hotbed of feminism—but adorable. The first is a depiction of a warrior queen, the Rani of Jhansi, who ruled in UP in the mid-19th century.

Of the signs, my favorite says “I am wise I can laugh”—laughter is power, and laughing out loud when all you have been taught is to be as quiet as you can is a victory.

(Annalisa Merelli @missanabeem here, posting outtakes and behind the scenes from my story)

#educationmatters #education #reporting #India #girlchildrevolution #girlseducation #ruralempowerment #femaleforward #womensrights #missingmillions #girleffect

View Photo #5 on Instagram

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From the beginning, it was clear that the girls were only going to succeed if they had role models. Typically, women work 12- to 14-hour days in the field or taking care of cattle, but don’t get to keep any money. So, the organization that runs the school got them to start small self-help financial groups, so that they could save money together and find a network of peers to rely on.

The groups of 12 to 20 start with 50 rupees for each woman ($0.75), and manage to get to enough money to give internal loans to group members and invest in money-making activities, like buying a cow.

In the first photo, you can see two members of a group. A member of another group manages the village solar power supply, charging for refills (they have a usb pen-like plug with which people can buy units of solar-generated electricity, which blew my mind). The register is the money log, with thumb print as most women in the groups are illiterate.

As you can see by their casual badassery, no one messes with these ladies no more.

#educationmatters #genderequality #development #financialempowerment #financialliteracy #ruraldevelopment #India #girlchildrevolution #femaleforward

View Photo #6 on Instagram

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Just this week, India has been found to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman. Politicians rejecting this are quoted in newspapers, surrounded by news of rape and abuse.

To understand just how remarkable it is that the @pardadapardadi girls are happy, and dare to dream, one way is to look at the drawings they made to explain what it means to be a girl in rural UP.

The drawings feature doting parents caring for their boys while the girl cries, and boys playing while girls do house chores. In some of the villages in Anupshahr, this is still the norm—and yet, even the clarity with which the students recognize that this is not fair is reason to believe a better future has begun.

(👋 Annalisa Merelli @missanabeem here) #educationmatters #education #India #girlchildrevolution #ruralIndia #girleffect

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