Across the globe, debates about "proper" roles for women are a focus of public debate. From violently enforced Taliban restrictions on girls' education, to mandated female political representation in Kenya's new constitution, to U.S. debates about how to deal with sexual assault in the military as women take on more combat roles, ideas about women's "proper" places in society are in flux.
These debates have taken center-stage in India, as the nation attempts to cope with an epidemic of gender-based violence. In this lesson, students will watch a segment of the film The World Before Her and then compare and contrast the very different visions of "true womanhood" endorsed by the film's two protagonists.
As a point of reference, students will look at the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which both India and the United States have signed. Students will assess the potential for each of the protagonists to fulfill the mandates of the convention through her choices, taking into account India's colonial heritage, its pathway to modernization and conflicts between Westernization and religious fundamentalism.
One 50-minute class period, plus homework
- Increase their understanding of: modernization, Westernization, feminism, sexism and fundamentalism
- Be familiar with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and what it requires signatory nations to do
- Gain an appreciation for diverse points of view
- Practice reading and analyzing informational materials, including a formal U.N. document, a written opinion piece and a film
- Communicate their analyses and opinions
- Internet access for students to watch the film clip
- Internet access and class online forum, such as a wiki or website, so that every student can participate in online class discussions
- Access to the text of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, either in print or online and to the Eagle Forum's 2007 response, ERA Enforced by the United Nations?"
1. As homework, assign students to read both the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the response on the Eagle Forum website. Note that the United States is a signatory to CEDAW. Invite students to think about which tenets of each document best align with their own views and the views of their families or the communities in which they grew up. Using an online class forum, invite students to comment on the assumptions about "proper" womanhood in each of the documents, including which tenets they think are best reflected in current law and custom, and which they think are most important to translate into action.
2. In class, briefly review the online discussion, making sure that students understand the two documents. Let the class know that they are going to use CEDAW as a reference to examine the life choices of two young women from India. They'll be introduced to Ruhi and Prachi via a clip from the film The World Before Her. After they see the clip, they'll be asked to evaluate the pathways endorsed by each of the women, then choose one of the women and write an opinion piece about whether her pathway would be likely to contribute to meeting the requirements of CEDAW (to which India is also a signatory) and why.
3. Before showing the film clip, provide basic background on India as needed. For example, it is important for students to know that India was a British colony and that under colonial rule, traditional Indian culture and religion were denigrated and devalued. When India declared independence, it became common to reclaim traditional Indian values and religion as an expression of nationalism. It might also be important for students to know that India, unlike the United States, has been governed in modern times by a female head of state.
4. Show the clip from The World Before Her. Ask students to be prepared to assess the choices of Ruhi (the beauty pageant contestant) and Prachi (the Hindu fundamentalist) in light of how well those choices align with the letter and spirit of CEDAW. Note: Students are using only CEDAW for this step because India has no official obligation to abide by the Eagle Forum's position, but the nation is a signatory to CEDAW. However, the Eagle Forum argument is an important reference to help students avoid a U.S.-is-the-gold-standard-for-women versus India-is-behind-the-times approach. Guide students to a more nuanced analysis, acknowledging that there is a wide range of views in both countries.