Fresh from my AIF Clinton Fellowship Orientation, I started work with my host organization, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), from the very next day. We were introduced to the organization through Gender Training. Every year the Women Empowerment Desk (WED) at the CTA organizes a TOT (Training of Trainers) Workshop on gender issues such as sexual and gender-based violence (1). This TOT workshop takes place in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, where the CTA is headquartered. Needless to say, there were pandemic-related limitations on in-person training in November 2020. Hence, the virtual format was adopted. Having worked as a gender educator for the past two years, I was highly skeptical about the effectiveness of online gender training.
For me, gender education meant being comfortable with being vulnerable and finding strength in sharing one’s most heart-wrenching personal accounts with a group of potential strangers. The success of this venture depends heavily on the trainer’s abilities to transform a room into a safe space. With a trainer who lacks sensitivity, knowledge or experience, the workshop could lead to disastrous results. At the same time, the physical proximity of a group creates an environment of familiarity. The room then becomes a living entity with a unique identity. I wondered how then would it be feasible for a gender trainer to facilitate the same environment online? The presence of around 50 people in the TOT workshop made me even more skeptical.
Ms. Nandita Bhat from Martha Farrell Foundation has years of experience in conducting gender education and sensitization workshops for organizations (government as well as private) and educational institutions (2). Since the pandemic, her work inevitably moved online and by November, the virtual format had become the norm. She has particularly been involved and invested in the WED team’s work within CTA. To ensure maximum impact creation, Nandita set some ground rules for all participants. At all times, our cameras were supposed to be switched on unless there were some major connectivity issues as the internet or phone network tends to be a tad unreliable in hilly regions. Next, the workshop was almost entirely participatory. There was no preaching, no teacher-student relationship, the format was completely collaborative with the intention of mutual learning and growth. So, unless the participants spoke up and shared their knowledge, the workshop facilitator kept mum. The awkward silence then had to be broken by the participants. There was no room for passivity in such a scenario.
The most crucial aspect of the TOT workshop was teamwork. Apart from the staple breakout room format of online discussion-based learning, the ultimate deliverable of the workshop was a sample gender education module to be prepared by the participants in teams. This was to be an exhaustive and rigorous discussion and activity based training module. The client and situation were different for different teams and they had to deliver the workshop as a trainer. This required hours of collaboration and dedicated team effort. The participants were Tibetan community members (spread across India) with an interest or past work experience in gender training along with two AIF Clinton Fellows. The diversity of my team was incredible and as I saw people putting on their thinking hats and showing up sincerely for each team meeting, putting in equal amounts of hard work and late nights into the team project, I realized that the workshop has been very impactful.
From April I have been facilitating gender training and sensitization workshops for small sections of the Department of Education (DoE) at CTA. While several gender training workshops have been conducted for staff members of the CTA over the years, these workshops are tailor-made to cater to the needs of the three sections within the DoE – Curriculum Development, Translation and Academic Development. The focus is on making the learnings sustainable in the long-term by ensuring we keep up the gender sensitization periodically, each one building up on the last. This way we aim to successfully pave the way for creating and implementing a gender education curriculum for all Tibetan schools across India in the future as well as ensuring gender mainstreaming in all activities of the DoE. In order to achieve this aim, I met with staff members from the three sections of DoE to learn and understand their specific requirements. I also had detailed talks with the WED team to understand how they operate in these workshops. Most importantly, I am fascinated by how the dots have beautifully connected – from beginning my CTA journey with a gender training workshop to now, facilitating many within CTA in the months to come, it feels like a mini-journey in itself. I will be implementing the lessons Ms. Nandita Bhat taught, in how to conduct effective gender sensitization trainings and am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from the expert firsthand.
- Yangchen, Jigme. “Women’s Empowerment Desk Organized Training of Trainers (TOT) on Gender and Gender Based Violence in Tibetan Community – Sard Fund.” Women’s Empowerment Desk, Central Tibetan Administration, SARD Fund, 20 Nov. 2020, sardfund.org/womens-empowerment-desk-organized-training-of-trainers-tot-on-gender-and-gender-based-violence-in-tibetan-community.
- “Nandita Pradhan Bhatt | YourStory.” YourStory.Com, YourStory, yourstory.com/people/nandita-pradhan. Accessed 30 May 2021