The three years of extensive work that human rights organisation Breakthrough put in to sensitise girls and boys on gender discrimination in four districts of Haryana has received its report card.

It has managed to bring about a “significant shift” in both the gender attitudes and behaviour of the programme recipients, says the evaluator Abdul Latif Jameel, Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL, South Asia).

An out-of-the-box project, christened ‘Taaron ki Toli’ , it involved working with boys and girls of classes VII to IX (12 to 15 years) in the four districts of Panipat, Sonepat, Jhajjar and Rohtak.

This is good news considering that the State’s sex ratio (0-6 years) has plummeted to 830 girls for every 1,000 boys (2011 census data). Girls, more than boys, often drop out of school as soon as they enter adolescence — only 73 girls make it to tertiary school for every 100 boys. J-Pal used a sample size of around 14,000 students from 314 schools in the four districts to assess the impact made by Breakthrough’s intervention. They randomly selected 150 schools that had received the programme, while the rest were used as a comparison group.

The evaluators found the results “extremely encouraging, particularly given the context of the high levels of gender discrimination in Haryana. Overall, the intervention led to a 4-percentage point increase on the gender attitude index, indicating a significant improvement in gender attitudes. There has also been an increase by 3-percentage point in the gender behaviour index, indicating more progressive behaviour overall.”

The baseline survey in 2013 and the endline survey in 2016-17 consisted of questions on three pre-specified primary outcomes classified as the gender attitude index, the gender aspirations index and the gender behaviour index. In the first, 18 questions were asked on the attitudes towards gender equality in education, employment, gender roles and fertility; the second quizzed the children on their expectations on academic performance, educational goals and occupation; the third pertaining to behaviour captured communication between the genders, chores within and outside the household, talking to parents, decision-making and school attendance.

There were many interesting findings, among which two deserve further probing. First, that behaviour change is far more significant among boys than girls, giving Breakthrough an insight for its future work.

And second, the programme’s impact on children with highly gender discriminatory parents (bottom 20 per cent) is comparable to the effect of growing up with parents with more progressive gender attitudes.

Happy with the outcome, Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO Breakthrough, feels that the evaluation has provided “firm evidence that this gender sensitisation curriculum is effective in changing attitudes and behaviour, even in a State like Haryana that has high gender discrimination.”

Breakthrough has petitioned the Human Resource Development Ministry to integrate the programme into the education system. “We now want to ensure that it is introduced in schools across India so that women and girls experience true equality and a safe, supportive environment,” she says. Let’s hope it happens.