What can a game of Snakes and Ladders teach a child about violence? It turns out a lot. A recent study shows that a new gender equity program in Indian schools can transform not only how students respond to gender discrimination and violence, but how their teachers, parents and communities do as well.
A government study in 2007 found that two out of three children in India are physically abused. But over the last two years, nearly 4,000 students, ages 12 to 14, in 40 schools in Jharkhand, India, have participated in the Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) program. Last month, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), which helped implement GEMS, published an evaluation of the program’s success.
Researchers found that the percentage of students in GEMS schools who strongly believe in gender equality increased 12 points (from 2 percent to 14 percent) after two years – double that of students in non-GEMS schools, which increased from 1 percent to 7 percent.
“I really like playing the Snakes and Ladders game,” one boy said in the GEMS promotional video. “Like, in box No. 3, there is a message that says that you should not perpetrate violence. If you haven’t been abusive then you climb up the ladder. Then, when the snake bites you because you have been abusive or violent, you climb down. This means that if you do not perpetrate violence, then you’ll rise, but if you keep using violence, then you can never move forward.”
The percentage of students who disapproved of peer-based violence also increased from 40 percent to 67 percent after two years in GEMS, 15 percent more than non-GEMS students, after adjusting for other factors including sex, caste, religion, parents’ education and more. Students’ responses to witnessing violence also changed. Compared to non-GEMS schools, 11 percent more boys in GEMS schools now intervene in physical violence positively, by reasoning with the perpetrator or reporting to a teacher or principal.
Use of violence to stop emotional violence dropped 15 points lower among boys in GEMS schools than comparison schools, and the decrease in girls who watched, enjoyed or joined in acts of sexual harassment fell 21 points more than in non-GEMS schools.