Tow-coloured mornings, a brewing cup of tea, complete with a newspaper is what makes for a perfect January morning. The winter sun and its enigmatic tranquillity make for a perfect setting for reading leisurely. This resplendent thought begins to wither away when you think of the 242 million girls who may never be able to read a newspaper. These girls have never set a foot in any educational institute, according to IndiaSpend’s report. How different would the lives of these 242 million girls have been, had they received any formal education? In fact, 242 million opportunities of having a better future may have been lost. At a time when India is marred with cries of intolerance, how have we maintained our studied silence over girls’ limited access to education?
Data is neither abstruse nor incomprehensible. A gamut of reports will tell you why girls’ education is as elusive as quicksilver. India takes the 125th place out of 145 countries in educational attainment. A keener look into the World Economic Forum report reveals that nearly half the population of girls of primary school age are out of school. However, this issue is not limited to India alone. Girl Rising, a social action campaign, uses the medium of storytelling to bring to us stories of nine gallant girls from across the world who dismantled barriers to attain education.
Ruksana, an 11-year-old girl, lived in a bamboo and cloth home on the streets of Kolkata. Her parents struggled to make ends meet, but ensured that Ruksana attended school. In a beautification drive, their world was in for a rude shock when her family was uprooted from the streets. Her parents’ spirit ceased to rest, and they worked tirelessly to secure Ruksana’s education.
Unfortunately, not all girls share Ruksana’s story. As many as 140 million girls are on the anvil of becoming child brides by 2020 across the globe. And 62 million girls are out of school. Girls’ education becomes more complex in India when it amalgamates with cultural, traditional and social norms. India’s ‘tolerance’ towards its traditional son preference is reflected relentlessly in pre-natal and post-natal studies. Child sex ratio sits at a dismal 918 girls per 1,000 boys (as per the census 2011 data). If girls are allowed to see the light of the day, their nourishment is compromised upon. Studies suggest that prenatal investments in terms of food, medical check-ups and supplements ascend when the woman is believed to be carrying the family’s first-born son.
It is not that families do not resonate with or understand the importance of education. The societal beliefs of girls meaning ‘paraya dhan’ and ‘bojh’ may sound passe, but continue to be rife. Operating with that mindset, it is difficult to fathom that girls’ education will bring any returns to her family. Education and its transformatory capacity are not gender-biased. Educated girls are more likely to educate their children, have better health and contract fewer diseases. If 1% more girls are enrolled in a secondary school, India’s GDP can potentially increase by $5 billion. It’s not just business sense. It’s common sense. With mounting evidence in support of girls’ education, why do we keep denying them of their right to education and expression?
The ministry of women and child development has launched a campaign called ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, celebrating the girl child and seeking to ensure her education and protection. Unique to this campaign is the ministry’s recognition of the role individuals can play. Sealed with an official stamp, the ministry urges individuals to vehemently dissuade from furthering gender stereotypes, recommends simple weddings and calls for gender sensitisation for men.
Going forward, we should voice our intolerance towards unequal access to education, and gamut of hindrances that are created in achieving that goal. Education is a basic human right, not a luxury. We must have more women in leadership roles, more girls in schools and narrow gender wage disparity.
The author serves on the advisory board of Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education that uses the power of storytelling to raise awareness on the need to educate girls