Gender and Self-learning: Autonomy for the Vulnerable During Crisis

Because making a choice is always a political decision. And when systems do not allow for that to happen, no amount of agency building exercise will be fruitful.

This may seem like a simple brainstorming exercise, but in fact, it is a carefully planned scaffolding process for encouraging self-directed learning.

Even as the daily negotiation with families to come to the club is not easy, the drive that keeps these girls going is the vision of self — of what kind of a person they want to be, and what societal barrier they want to navigate around; and in the process, how they want to shape their own identity.

These clubs are facilitated by the ‘girl champions’, who are of the same age group as these girls. Thus their identities are also shaped based one each one’s story, each one’s strength and support. It makes it less risky for them to come up with ideas, share aspirations and challenges that are more personal. This acts as a catalyst for sustaining these safe spaces*. 

[*In words of Henry Giroux “ Critical pedagogy makes clear that schools and other educational spheres cannot be viewed merely as instructional sites, but must be seen as places where culture, power, and knowledge come together to produce particular identities, narratives, and social practices.”]

This process of shaping one’s identity — being able to see oneself as a confident person who can express, have an opinion and to voice it, exercise influence on someone — is a liberating experience. Some of these girls have been able to influence their family’s decisions about their marriage, some have been able to talk about the violence and abuse in the community; some have also been able to demand from the primary health centres, schools and anganwadis in the district what is rightfully theirs. 

These probably seem like small steps, but they are in the right direction.

What we have learned in the process is that self-learning is not a means to an end but an end in itself. And the process of learning does not necessarily have to result in learning a trade or skills to become employable but to lead one’s everyday life with a lot more freedom and agency. 

As we face an unprecedented set of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital to look after the most vulnerable people — girls and women in lower-income communities. The lockdown and school closures will affect girls’ life chances, because many girls will drop out of education. Women will be increasingly expected to provide most of the informal care within families, with the consequence of limiting their work and economic opportunities. Travel restrictions will accelerate financial challenges and uncertainty. The isolation will be taxing. Domestic and sexual violence may rise.  

And a lack of access to and control over natural resources and production assets by women, particularly those living in rural areas or belonging to tribal groups and lower-income households, will be highlighted.

If governments, policy makers and civil society don’t take these into account now or treat these as a side issue, the cost of that will be a reversal of every inclusive, equitable effort made to uphold the autonomy of girls and women.

The extent to which girls and women take initiative, nurture purpose and reason, and navigate deference in these times; and the manner in which families, communities, institutions and governments uphold their rights to do so — not only in the interests of justice, but also as a key requirement for the social and economic progress — will decide the futures of these communities.


The Anandshala Adolescent Programme is part of the Dasra Adolescent Collaborative. The major outcomes of the collaborative include:

        Completion of secondary education

        Delaying age at marriage

        Delaying age at first pregnancy

        Increasing agency

 The Anandshala Adolescent programme is implemented in five blocks of Deogarh District through an in school intervention and youth clubs in community focusing on completion of secondary education and increase in agency as the key outcomes. For this project, we have partnered with two other organizations – NEEDS and Chetna Vikas — who have extensive experience of working with the communities in Jharkhand’s Deoghar district.

Read more about the project.


Deepika Singh
Education Specialist

Jayashree Vyasarajan Arasu
Associate Director – Research

Author: thelearnerbyquest

Quest Alliance's space for reflection on the education sector

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