The Breakthrough Voice 30th October, 2018
Access To Education For Indian Girls Still Abysmally Low.

The ability to read, write and analyze;
The confidence to stand up and demand justice and equality;
The qualification and connections to get your foot in that door and take your seat at the table;
All that starts with education.

– Michelle Obama

Education is one of the keys to achieving economic independence for women. But still, 13 million girls in the world don’t go to school today – not because they don’t want to but because they weren’t given the chance. According to a report by the National Commision For Protection Of Child Rights – across India, 39.4% of girls in the age group of 15-18 drop out of school. There is not a single reason that results in the increasing number of girls dropping out of schools. Instead, a myriad of reasons are at force which prevents girls from continuing their education.

Of the 39.4% girls that drop out, 64.8% do so not because they are working jobs. Traditional gender norms push girls into helping with household chores and sibling care. Even if a girl has a chance to continue her education, her chance is taken away because of financial restraints. If a family has to choose between sending their son or  daughter to school, typically the son will be chosen. Negative parental attitude is a huge barrier in the way of girls continuing their education.

As the recent Annual Survey of Education Report 2017 findings suggest – when the state doesn’t enforce compulsory education through the Right to Education Act, 32% of girls are not enrolled in schools by the time they are 18. A bridging mechanism for out of school children exists at the elementary level but absent for secondary education. Hence girls find it difficult to re-enter schools once they have dropped out.

There is also a sharp decrease in schools beyond the upper primary level. In 2015-16, for every 100 elementary schools in rural India, there were 14 secondary education schools. The fact that most secondary schools are privately owned, fee-charging schools have not helped. Even though the girls may be able to get admission in these schools at lower fees, the family has to pay other expenses including books, uniform, etc, which in itself can be a burden for economically vulnerable families. This stacks the odds against girls, their education and leads to dropping out.

The government’s slogan of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao cannot be fulfilled without the fundamental right to secondary education backed by measures that ensure – free quality public education institutions available and accessible for all, especially girls.

Myths and taboos about menstruation are largely prevalent, forcing many girls out of the schools. A 2014 report by NGO Dasro titled ‘Spot On’, found that nearly 23 million girls drop out of schools after hitting puberty because of the lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. This includes the availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation. According to the 2015 report by Dasra – ‘Dignity for her’, “Girls tend to miss school six days a month on an average due to the inability to manage periods while in school. This results in 23 % of girls dropping out of schools which critically undermines their potential as individuals and future workers.”

Social issues such as child marriage also force girls into dropping out of school. Despite the Constitution making child marriage a punishable offence, the practice is still prevalent in India. A total of 1758 cases of child marriage were registered between the years 2014 and 2016 throughout the country. According to a report, 24 child marriages have been stopped in the Bhongir town in Telangana in the year 2017. Most people, according to the police, just want to get away from their daughter.

Adolescent girls also lack support from society and are bogged down by community norms that create a barrier in their advancement. The presence of strong female role models in the community are the key to changing the popular perception in  terms of what women can do. This is critical for the education of not only this generation but also the next.

We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave- to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

– Malala Yousafzai

Also Read: How Menstrual Taboos Influence Our Ideas Of Hygiene And Education

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