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Study Hall Educational Foundation Founder on Why Patriarchal Systems in India Must Be Done Away With

16 August 2022 | The Business of Giving Podcast

Denver Frederick is the host of The Business of Giving, a podcast that focuses on solutions to today’s complex social problems, and the people who are bringing about systems change through their work. He regularly has deep and insightful conversations with Catalyst 2030 members.

The following is a conversation between Denver and Catalyst 2030 member Dr. Urvashi Sahni, CEO of Study Hall Educational Foundation.

Urvashi Sahni
Dr. Urvashi Sahni, CEO of Study Hall Educational Foundation

Denver: Dr. Urvashi Sahni is the founding president and chief executive officer of Study Hall Educational Foundation. She’s a leading expert in school governance, curriculum reform, and teacher training with a special focus on girls’ education and the use of technology in education. Her work on feminist pedagogy has been recognized around the world, and she’s with us now.

Welcome to The Business of Giving, Urvashi.

Urvashi:Thanks so much, Denver, and thank you for having me.

Denver: Tell us about Study Hall Educational Foundation and of its mission.

Urvashi: Study Hall Educational Foundation is an educational organization which is a nonprofit, and it’s now 36 years old– will be 37 in January. It’s a school in my garage back in 1986 and now has grown to be running six unique schools, a college, 148 community-based learning centers, and in partnership with a thousand schools, government-run.

Our vision is to educate everyone for gender equality, social justice, personal flourishing, and to be an active democratic citizen. We work through teacher training. We’ve done our own school. We developed curricula, and one of the most effective curriculums that we have developed is on Critical Feminist Pedagogy with girls and with boys. And it’s been used across two states, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, with a thousand schools in a very impactful manner and we are now in partnership with the government to do it with another thousand schools.

Denver: What a great overview. Tell us what brought you to this work, Urvashi, in the first place.

Urvashi: It was actually a personal experience I’ll try to relay. I come from a very patriarchal family. My parents were refugees from Pakistan, and my father raised me to be a good, obedient girl and with a goal to be a good wife, which means that she translates into obedient wife, a good daughter-in-law and of course, a good daughter, good mother, et cetera, et cetera.

And to have no aspiration beyond that.  I was married off very early, just closing on 18, really. And for the first few years of my marriage, I kind of lived, I suppose, without questioning it too much… not liking it, but didn’t think I had the right to question it. And then one day, I heard that my cousin, two years younger than me, who also went to the same high-quality private school in Una, that she was burnt to death.

Denver: Oh.

Urvashi: So everyone passed… there were in-laws who were trying to pass it off as a suicide, but clearly it was a dowry murder. That shook me to my core and I wondered why she had not questioned it. What did she do? Why did it come to that? Given that I started an organization to help girls and women in distress. That’s all, it was a very humble beginning. But I started doing workshops with girls in schools and colleges thinking that they should learn to question all of this.

And it was in my work with them that the penny suddenly dropped. And I said, My God!  These girls are just as clueless as I was. That our so-called high-quality education– gave us academic skills, but didn’t teach us the important lesson that we were equal, that we had a right to autonomy, the right to choose a life that we wanted, and that we could pursue that.

I said, but education should be different. Even this so-called high-quality education is very deficient and I felt very short in my mind. And believe me, I went to a school that at that time ranked number one in the country and I did very well. And so I said, Man! What was all this? And with that, I started thinking about education seriously. Had many questions. I read a lot. I went to visit some alternative schools.

And in the doing of that, I met with this great educator, Ahalya Chari, from the Krishnamurti Foundation school, and she and I became friends with a much older woman. And she told me that I should start a school. I jumped out of my skin. I said, What? I don’t have a degree in education. And she said, No, but you have all the right questions. So I said, You mean you can start with questions? She said, Yes, best way to start. And so I took a huge deep breath and started in my own garage.

And there was a teacher in a school nearby where I had been running a course in philosophy, and she said that she would join me. So I said, well, maybe she had B. Ed. even if I don’t, and so we could. But more importantly, I think it was my not having a B. Ed. that really helped me, a degree in education, because there’s very little to unlearn.

And so I looked at the kids, I learned from them. I read a lot. And that’s what brought me into education. And the goal was to have an authentic education that responded to learners’ needs, and that helped them deal with real-life challenges. So that it was not just only about knowing, but about learning.

“So gender discrimination is huge. And I think as long as we have patriarchal families, patriarchal systems, it’s not going to go away. And so we need to work at a systemic change, and we need to work at demolishing patriarchy, and bringing in true democratic families, democratic systems– which means egalitarian ones.”

Denver: Mm-hmm. It is interesting sometimes coming from outside the field, how your questions are better and fresher than those who are really steeped in it. But what a defining moment… a tragic story about your cousin, but what a defining moment!

Well, talk a little bit about gender discrimination. We know that’s a problem across the world. How deeply embedded is it in India?

Urvashi: Oh my God, Denver. It’s lethal. I’ll just give you a few statistics which are…they’re horrifying. In our country, these are official statistics of the National Crime Bureau. We have four rapes an hour reported. We have more than 500,000 girls killed in the womb due to selective abortions, a huge male preference, all right?

One in three women. Sorry, yeah, one in three women claims to be victim of domestic violence. And I’m sure the number is much higher because a lot of it goes unreported. Then of course our education statistics. Now the enrollment is… the gap is closing, but dropouts in girls are huge because of child marriage.

We have one-third of the world’s child brides, and I like to call that girls slavery, not child brides. So that’s what it is, right? So I think that is enough to tell you that in terms of gender discrimination, I know I faced it at home. I know all the girls that I work with face it today. And I was speaking to a bunch of boys about domestic violence, and so many of them said that they see their fathers beating their mothers.

And they say, as they’re growing up, we try to intervene. And it was almost par for the course. So gender discrimination in patriarchal societies like India is huge. And actually in… I know it’s everywhere, and I know that it’s very insidious in many places, and in countries like ours, it’s endemic. But it’s very stark because it’s visible.

Denver: Yeah.

Urvashi: But it’s better than being… than operating in such a covered way in other countries. So gender discrimination is huge. And I think as long as we have patriarchal families, patriarchal systems, it’s not going to go away. And so we need to work at systemic change, and we need to work at demolishing patriarchy, and bringing in true democratic families, democratic systems– which means egalitarian ones.

And that’s what we try to do through education because I think it has a huge role to play. And the problem with gender discrimination in India is it’s not so much a matter of policy. We have all the right laws. We have laws against domestic violence. We have a law against child marriage. We have all laws that give you equal rights in inheritance, equal pay for equal work, all of that.

And there’s a law against even trying to predetermine the sex of your unborn child. But all of this still continues. There’s a law against dowry, but still in society, all of this is rampant because people don’t really care about laws, but they do care about custom; they care about tradition.

“…You need to train them, you need to talk to them about all the social injustice that is still pervasive. Help them deconstruct patriarchal mindset, both girls and boys, and reconstruct democratic minds. And that’s what we do in our schools, all of that.”

Denver: Yep.

Urvashi: And then mindsets are still very, very feudal and patriarchal. And so you can’t have a democracy with feudal mindsets, and we have not been able to change those. And I think education, we shape mindsets. We should be working at that and not just at developing decontextualized academic skills. That’s not enough. It doesn’t change things.

People keep saying, Oh, you educate girls, all will be well. Well, we have more girls educated now, but all is still not well because it’s… I was educated, my cousin was educated. But what? You don’t need just  academic skilling as part of education; you need to train them, you need to talk to them about all the social injustice that is still pervasive. Help them deconstruct patriarchal mindset, both girls and boys, and reconstruct democratic minds. And that’s what we do in our schools, all of that.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah.

Urvashi: By the way, it does work. We found that it does work. In the case of girls. We found that helping them see themselves as equal human persons, deserving of respect, with the right to autonomy, it helps turn the key. That’s the key when they recognize themselves like that is when they start working at their own…They develop an agency. They develop a voice when they do that.

And the boys, our message is very clear, that: Hey, boys, patriarchy is not your fault so you’re not to blame. At the same time, you can see how cruel it is to your sisters, your mothers, your girlfriends, your future wives. And so what are you going to do? How will you change? What do you think needs to change? How do you think men need to change? And I find that young children, young people, are much more receptive to this. And if you build egalitarian habits of the mind, they do change.

Denver: Yep. To your point, culture always does trump laws. And as you said, these are official government statistics. So you almost know by definition, they’re going to be understated. Well, let’s talk a little bit about SHEF and the two hallmarks of your methodology, Urvashi, are universe of care and critical feminist pedagogy. Let’s start with the universe of care. What do you mean by that, and how is that manifested?

Urvashi: Yeah. So I think caring and love– it’s highly underrated. We don’t have caring organizations. And one of the things that drove me to education also was that I feel schools are abusive places, actually. They’re emotionally abusive, and they shut down the mind instead of giving it full flight.

And they take away the creativity, they take away agency. They don’t deal with the self. And so the goal was to have one where you cared, where students felt cared for. They felt listened to, they felt respected, and that is the way you learn to care for yourself, too. Teachers won’t do that unless they feel cared for, they feel respected and listened to.

So that’s what I mean by universe. That the whole universe, all the inhabitants of that universe must feel cared for. They must feel respected. They must feel listened to. And I think that’s what we’ve tried to work at in our large schools and our whole organization. And I am so thrilled to report that in 36 years, that universe of care has only grown stronger. It has not waned.

When I look at it as anyone who steps in it gets infected by the air, the caring…And the same is true of uncaring organizations and institutions. Anyone who steps in, even with the best intentions, they get infected by the uncaring attitudes, approaches, and behaviors.

And how do we nurture and nourish this? Simply by having an open-door policy, having a consultative style of leadership, giving students voice actively by building structures, many student councils, many meetings, and several critical dialogues once a week, which is where you bring your whole life into that experience.

You share each other’s lives. You listen to each other attentively. The teachers also share their lives, and where even the teachers feel that the management is open to listen to them, bringing their lives into the organization. To have a deep understanding and a transacted understanding, not just a theoretical one, that people are whole persons.

You don’t only treat their brains or their minds, but when they come to school, when they come to this learning space, they come with all of themselves, their history, their personal circumstances, their social circumstances, their economic circumstances, their whole life. So they step in whole, and you must look at them whole and treat them as whole persons. And that’s what we mean by holistic. I like to spell it W-H-O-L-I-S-T-I-C, because it’s wholistic, you know?

Denver: Yeah.

Urvashi: It’s whole. Yeah.

Denver: That’s great. So to your point about caring and uncaring organizations, it is amazing how contagious they can be. And I think sometimes we think we have too much agency of ourselves when really the environment plays a much, much larger role in the way we behave than we even like to admit. Because I have been in both of those kinds of organizations. I know in uncaring organizations, you sometimes become uncaring almost to protect yourself because everybody else is that way. So the environment really can be pervasive.

Urvashi: Exactly. Exactly. And so it’s pointless telling teachers to care for their students when they don’t feel cared for.

Denver: Mm-hmm. You’re right. Absolutely.

Urvashi: They just won’t do it wholeheartedly. If they do it, they’ll do it resentfully, grudgingly.

Denver: Grudgingly. Mm-hmm.

Urvashi: So they can walk into their headmistress’ office, unburden themselves, that she will understand. She looks at them, and she comes through her lesson plan and says, Hey, what’s wrong? Are you alright?

And sometimes I, almost half jokingly, I say that it seems like all the wretched of the earth land up in SHEF, and I’ll tell you why. There are so many people who are troubled, and they say we’ve heard that this is the place where you heal. And so that’s why I’ve come, and I’m willing to learn.

 “…The role of the teacher is to facilitate this conversation, the sharing, and this very active listening and responsive listening, and then trying to point out how that there’s a system and a structure that is responsible for this discrimination, and that we must attend to it carefully and understand that as we change, the system changes and the system won’t change unless we change…”

Denver: You know, the other thing is that in all SHEF schools, you employ critical feminist pedagogy. Tell us about that and how that shows up.

Urvashi: So, critical feminist pedagogy… I went to Berkeley by the way for my PhD. And that’s where I encountered Paulo Freire, who is the father of critical pedagogy in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

And I found it very interesting, his whole idea of critical literacy, where he looks at it as a humanizing force, as a liberatory force. I said, Hmm, what does this mean? And I understood how it meant, that it doesn’t have anything to do with reading and writing, much more to do with reading your world, talking about your lives, helping others read your life more and more so to speak, and then building a curriculum around that.

I said, Wow! And I can’t tell you how influenced I was by that. And then when I came home, I actually married my feminist leanings with that. The one fault that people have found with Paulo Freire is that he was, it was very sexist.. And there were other people, Giroux and Apple, et cetera, who brought it down into schools. Again, all white men.

And so, again, with not enough of a feminist understanding. So I thought that I… I merged my feminist leanings and my love for critical pedagogy, and then developed critical feminist pedagogy. And that is simply what it means. Its goal is to develop a feminist consciousness in both girls, boys, everybody. And what does that mean? 

I encountered Paulo Freire when I was doing my PhD in UC Berkeley back in 1999. No, it was 1989, sorry. And I was absolutely enthralled by his idea of education as a liberatory, humanizing, revolutionary force. And so it was with that understanding and about education as being contextualized in human lives and their circumstances. And it was that understanding and merging my feminist consciousness and my feminist leanings into the critical pedagogy that I learned from Paulo Freire that I developed critical feminist pedagogy.

And what it means simply is this, that its goal is to develop a feminist consciousness in girls and in boys. And what does that mean? That means, first, understanding your own circumstances, understanding that they’re not natural, that gender discrimination is not a natural phenomenon, God-given, that girls will be girls, boys will be boys, boys are superior, girls are inferior, and you just accept your status in life and that’s how life goes on.

No. What it does is it shows you that, no, gender discrimination is a socially and historically constructed phenomenon, and it can be deconstructed. It was made by humans, it can be unmade. And how do you unmake it? First of all, recognizing that what’s happening to you is wrong, then imagining possible worlds where this can be righted, and working at that in a safe space.

So Paulo Freire spoke about critical dialogues and culture circles. So what I did with my critical feminist pedagogy, how we transacted in classrooms with that we have critical dialogues once a week where we literally sit in a circle, we talk about our lives. And the role of the teacher is to facilitate this conversation, the sharing, and this very active listening and responsive listening, and then trying to point out that there’s a system and a structure that is responsible for this discrimination, and that we must attend to it carefully and understand that as we change, the system changes and the system won’t change unless we change, right?

Denver: Mm-hmm.

Urvashi: And girls and boys, both. So that’s what critical feminist pedagogy, then we’ve developed a curricular around it for girls, for boys, and co-ed. I’ve also written a whole book on it, which has been published by the Brookings Press on showing how it is transacted in classroom in a school context.

Denver: You know, you have also, as you pointed out, embarked on the construction of a curriculum to educate boys for gender justice. Tell us a little bit about that and: How do you get boys who have, let’s say, these long- held beliefs– maybe not in their own personal lives, but certainly in the society that has been passed down to them– loosen those beliefs and begin to develop a feminist consciousness?

Urvashi: We, again, what we do is first we get them to talk about their own lives and to think about their lives and their families in a holistic context. What are their mothers’ lives like? What are their sisters’ lives like? And what are their lives like in comparison? The goal is to build a sense of empathy and to confront them with a moral argument.

I’ll give you a very simple example. We asked the boys that, alright, will you tell us what your day is like. They tell you: they do this, they do that. Some of them are working. They tell you about their work lives. In fact, almost all of them, and these are adolescent boys, they go to play in the evening in the playgrounds– cricket, football, something.

Denver: Mm-hmm.

Urvashi: That’s nice. And what part your sister… do they go to this? No, of course not. I said, why not? So they said, oh, you know, they don’t really want to. They play at home, plus it’s not safe. And the parents won’t let them go because there’s work to be done at home. Who’s going to help mom? I said, Ah, then how do they feel about that?

So they’ll say, I don’t know, they’re okay. I said, how about you ask them? So they ask them, they come back.  I said, So what happened? They said, no, they don’t like it. I said, Ah, so now what? So what can we do about that? They said, yeah.

 So one of them said, Well, maybe we can take them with us. Then our parents would be concerned about safety so much. I said, yeah. And what about all that work that needs to be done at home, housework? Because, you know, my mom will do it. I said, Then she gets overburdened?

 Well, so all these girls will do it when they come back. I said, Ah, really? So then one of them said very timidly, You know, maybe we can help them with the housework and really get it done faster, and then we can both go. I said, What a good idea!

Denver: What a great idea that is!

Urvashi: Yeah, and so it’s with a light hand and with a gentle touch and sometimes not such gentle touch that you try and build this empathy. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with these boys about boy talk and how it is so sexually abusive to girls, how all the abuses are sexual, how you are continuously objectifying girls when you talk about them and so disrespectful. It’s all about that.

And so they were talking about how bad it is, and they were also talking about the trouble they have with peers, and how sometimes it’s a whole thing of being in the inside circle, and it’s cool. And how it’s almost become normalized. I said, But do you see how much harm it actually does? Because that’s what rapes are born of eventually. So I said, The trouble is boys think it is harmless, but can you see that it’s not harmless? They said, Yeah.

So then I said, What do you think we can do to change that? So they said, Maybe we should have more conversations in our own groups, too, in peer groups as well. I said, Yeah, that’s what we should do. We also run large campaigns. So the goal is to gently lead them towards a sense of empathy, towards the sense of a model argument of: Why is this fair?

Why is this right? And do you see how much it hurts them? Do you see how unfair it is to your own mothers, to your own daughters? People that they like, their own sisters, people that they love. And to understand also that it serves no one, doesn’t even serve them. Dowry, for example, even though it hurts the girl more because she’s the one who bears the brunt of it. At the same time, who collects these dowries? It’s the father, then the brothers.

I said, You see, you would be saved of all that trouble. And also you are raised to believe that you must be breadwinners, and you must provide for your family and your parents. So you see how if your sisters were to shoulder half the load… and your wives, how much easier life would become for you, too? So that’s how we work at it.


Denver: Yeah, a patriarchal society works for no one. And I see exactly what you are saying in terms of the stress that boys have on themselves, having to assume all that responsibility. And I also like the way you take a general idea about girls and women, which may not resonate that much, but when you bring it down to mom and the sisters, all of a sudden, just the way you explained it, there’s a connection. They begin to look at it completely differently, and then they can generalize it from there.

Urvashi: Right. Yeah. And not just that, also pointing out to them that, Hey, listen, why must you keep all your emotions bottled up?  Why can’t you be nurturing people? It’s great to be fun, and gentle, and loving. I said, And women really, really prize men like that.

Denver: Well, you’re a great psychologist, I will tell you that.

Urvashi: We talk to women also, girls also, and say, You need to change your preferences because you both, sometimes all of you, you have the whole macho idea of men and the alpha male. Well then, that’s what they want to be.  So if those are the ones eventually who hurt you, then shouldn’t you value the slightly quieter, the gentler, the more nurturing, caring man who sometimes you toss aside as not man enough? Well then, you need to change your idea of masculinity, too. And as boys need to change their idea of masculinity and femininity. So then I try and deconstruct patriarchal notions of masculinity and femininity, both.

Denver: You know, you talked about campaigns before. One of the biggest that you undertake is India’s Daughters Campaign. Tell us about that, Urvashi.

Urvashi: Yeah. So the India’s Daughters Campaign was really born out of the girls, when we were working only with girls. They said, We do all this great stuff in our school, but many of our neighbors, et cetera, they don’t have a clue, and I think we should be doing something with them, too.

I said, Well, wonderful! Why don’t you start having meetings with families and homes in your community and talking to other women, which they started to do. And then the whole idea grew into taking out a procession, getting signatures from members of the community against domestic violence, against child marriage. And with that, it was born in 2011 and now we’ve conducted one every year.

Denver: Wow.

Urvashi: And it spread out to millions. Actually, I think 20 million, that’s the latest number where all our thousand schools… the students will march into community. They will persuade people. They will have street plays. And our last year, our theme was: What can men and boys do to change so that India becomes safe for her daughters.

Denver: Mm-hmm. What’s, what’s been the impact of COVID on your work?

Urvashi: COVID, as you know, impacted girls and women more. Many, some of them, we had it. It turned us back in some ways, especially we had managed to bring down child marriage considerably in all the areas we work. This time, many of the girls were married off. They were shut in. There wasn’t enough of an outreach. People couldn’t reach them.

Many girls were put back to work, and so it did have an effect, but not irreversible. And we are working at trying to undo that damage. And in many cases, there were heroes that stepped up. Many girls stepped up, and they said, Hey, well, I have a device; many of my friend and neighbors don’t and their fathers won’t give it to them. So I’ll get them into my room or my terrace or my back front yard and let’s see. Will you send us the lessons and I will help teach them.

So they managed to keep up the connections. We were able to talk to the fathers more directly. We would call the father on the phone, he picks it up, and so we chat for a little while. And then say, Hey, and you think you could give your daughter the phone for half an hour twice a day so that we could help her? And now they couldn’t say no directly. It helps us build closer relationships with fathers in their homes. And that helped raise the value of their daughters in their home.

Denver: You know, you mentioned at the start of our conversation, you’re a nonprofit organization. How could philanthropy be more effective in supporting organizations like Study Hall?

Urvashi: No, I think philanthropy should understand that if they’re interested in supporting girls, they should be interested in feminist movements that will work at a systemic change, which means trying to disrupt patriarchy. And they should give up on expecting short-term results, on the short-termism, so to speak.

Denver: Mm-hmm.

Urvashi: And okay, let’s just give access, let girls into school. Not enough. Let’s get girls into school, yes, just as a first step, but let’s look at curricular and pedagogies that are actually doing this disruptive work in the schools. And that will have an effect over time. It won’t show you the results in one year. And so you should stop saying, okay, we’re giving you money for three years, and then we want a third-party evaluation and we want to see how mindsets have changed.

Seriously? This is a centuries-old problem, and you think it’s going to change so fast? It will change, but give it some time, five years minimum, and have a long-term horizon. And we are lucky to have found partners like that, the Mona Foundation, Echidna Giving. They understand, they understand that this is very deep-rooted. It’s very important work. It’s important working at systems change, it’s going to take time, and it should work. They deserve support over the long term.

Denver: Yeah, that’s a great point. And it is no question about it that donors need to redefine what success means. And it doesn’t mean what’s going to happen in the next 12 or 36 months. Those horizons absolutely have to change if we’re really going to have an impact. How would you, describe your leadership style? And do you think the nature of leadership of big organizations like yours has changed over the course of the last couple years?

Urvashi: Our leadership style… and we work at this, is a very caring, consultative, nurturing mentorship style. It’s not this hierarchical that I’m in power, I’ll tell you what to do, and you bloody well do it. No, it’s not like that. It’s :This is what we should all do, and let us help each other. Let’s share resources. Let’s mentor each other. And you’re good at something, I’m good at something; let’s pool that together and work at this vision and mission together, right?

And let me care about you as a whole person and understand when you have trouble that maybe a lot is going on in your personal life, and what can I do about it. So there’s a lot of space for self-work, a lot of space for interpersonal work, and this relational, connected consultative style. And the problems are our problems together, so let’s try and find solutions together.

Denver: Mm-hmm.

Urvashi: Over the last two years, while I was facing COVID and trying to, man, reach help wherever we could, make sure that all our people were getting what they needed. I’m telling you, there were times I feel like a general. And God! I know what generals feel like in war now. They don’t know what the hell is going on. They really don’t think they have the answers. At the same time, they have people looking to them to help and, Oh man, God bless me, God, please help me… kind of a thing, and I hope I’m doing the right thing.

So that was my, you know, being vulnerable and saying, I know as much as anyone else does, but we should hold each other. We should do what we can for each other and let’s get creative ,and let’s be caring, and we can right things. So it meant really managing people’s fears, managing people’s grief, understanding it. Managing uncertainties, learning to embrace them. But most importantly, holding. That is what brought us through, holding.

We managed to help  our rural communities, giving them medical kits. And so we really saw education, though we are an educational organization, we learned to shift gears and understand that’s not what people need right now. Right now, they need all of this, and we’ll come to education when everyone is ready for it.

Denver: Mm-hmm. Urvashi, tell us about the breakthrough collaborative, Catalyst 2030, of which you’re a member, as a matter of fact, a founding member and the impact that it has had and maybe the impact that it’s had on you as well.

Urvashi: So I think Catalyst 2030 has been a great way that it’s helped many of us go through COVID by the way, because we founded it just as COVID started. We didn’t even know COVID was coming when we founded it. But after that, it really helped us.

One, we felt held by many more people who we learned from each other. And it’s a group of… no, it started with about 80, 150 social entrepreneurs globally, and now it’s 1,800 and counting, by the way. Me, personally, I have been co-chair of the education group, and so  we’ve done a lot of sharing of all our troubles. We have done a lot of reimagining together, redefining together.

And this has really been an opportunity and a great space for us to come together. We now developed a whole report on pathways to transforming education, which is in its final stages. It’s with the designer now, and we are hoping to launch it in September, around the Transforming Education Summit, which is being held by the UN Secretary-General.

So we are hoping to try to launch it then, and then we are hoping to take it to countries, maybe showcase work of all the social entrepreneurs, showing that they have found solutions. The organizations… like mine, like the World of Reading, like Teach For All, like several from all over the world, that we have been working at this for a long time.

We have been doing everything that all the new principles of education say we should be doing. And these are tried, tested impactful solutions that policy makers should take seriously and use them. They should collaborate with social entrepreneurs. Give us a seat at the table, and I’m sure we can do a lot with education with that.

Denver: Fantastic. Finally, Urvashi, what’s the next challenge that needs to be addressed? What’s next on your list to continue this journey around equity and gender?

Urvashi: The next challenge… and in fact we’re already on this, this is one of those not to be spoken about things, and which is at the root of a lot of gender-based violence in the country is the whole issue of sex.

We’ve developed a curriculum on comprehensive sexuality education. And I can’t tell you how…I think it takes a brave heart because transgression of sexual norms is absolutely lethal.. All the murdered… honor killings are rampant, they are burnt. If they get pregnant before they’re married, if they have a boyfriend in another caste, if they marry interreligious, if they are promiscuous, it has terrible and fatal consequences.

Denver: Yeah.

Urvashi: We think that that needs a lot of work. Whenever something is so forbidden, we know that’s very important, and I know it’s very important. And that is what keeps girls, keeps all the gender unbalanced relations in place. That’s the next challenge. 

And sometimes I really think I need my head examined because this is really taking on a lot, because it’s taking on a huge tradition. It’s taking on religion, it’s taking on many things. I don’t expect it to be easy. And I know that it needs to be handled very, very carefully if there isn’t to be a great backlash. So that’s really the next to work on.

Denver: Well, it certainly is a challenge, not for sissies. I mean,  you’re one Intrepid woman to take that on, but I do know how simple and important it really is. It’s just incredible.

For listeners who want to learn more about Study Hall, or maybe even financially support this incredible work that you’re doing, Urvashi, tell us about your website and the kind of information that they can find on it.

Urvashi: So our website is So please visit our website. You will hear all about our programs. You’ll see some of the videos and some of the talks, some of our webinars, and it’ll give you a great insight into the kind of work we do. You’ll get to hear the voices of students, of teachers, even community members, of what they think about all the issues that are surrounding gender and gender discrimination in India.

Denver: Great. Well, thanks, Urvashi, for being here today. It was such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Urvashi: Thank you so much, Denver. Thank you for having me.

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