Women’s education in India is still a hot topic of discussion. The world average female literacy rate is 79.7%, while in India the average rate is 65.46%.
As one of the most populous countries in the world, India has abundant human resource, one of the critical factors that act as harbinger of prosperity. So much so that the World Bank thinks, India has the potential to become the human resource capital of the world.
In the coming two decades, India may have one of the youngest and largest working-age population in the world. In fact, about a million youth may enter the Indian labour market every month, the World Bank statistics reveal.
However, the multilateral agency sounds a caution: The prevailing gender roles and discriminating women may have a crippling impact. It identifies female labour force participation in the market at 31.2 percent and more than 50 million young women in India neither study nor work.
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that female population is still considered as second-class citizen in large swathes of the country. Access to tools enabling a healthy life – education, health, and wealth – for a female is disproportionate to males and upheld as a part of the ‘traditional’ mores.
Women’s education in India: statistics call for policy intervention
According to the statistics released by the latest census of 2011, India’s female literacy rate is 65.46 percent, significantly lower than the world average of 79.7 percent. China, India’s neighbor and the other global human resource powerhouse, precedes with 82.7 percent female literacy rate.
It is only ironical that last September, Google celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of Asima Chatterjee, a renowned Indian woman scientist who pioneered the work on medicinal chemistry in the country.
The Right to Education (RtE) Act, introduced in 2009 making elementary education free and compulsory in the country, has been a shot in the arm for many. Nevertheless, statistics reveal the dismal gap between states – while states like Kerala paint a rosy picture of women’s education in India with 92.07 percent female literacy, relatively backward states such as Bihar with 51.5 percent female literacy rate highlight the importance of sustained campaign in favour of women’s education in India.
Women’s education in India: facts from the ground
In India, it is popularly said that a woman is either someone’s daughter, sister, wife, or mother, indicating the various stages of her life. Besides, it also points at the absence of female agency – in fact, it is an idea that is often considered foreign and ‘imported’, diluting its importance in leading a healthy life.
Performing the normative gender roles defined by the society is one of the key hurdles in women’s education in India. In most of the families, especially in north India, sons are preferred over daughters. While female foeticide and infanticide may have reduced, daughters face discrimination in availing the facilities that facilitate a better life.
If they reach school as kids, adolescent females are the first to drop out. According to statistics, around 63.5 percent female students quit school during adolescence.
One of the reasons for this whopping number is lack of facilities in schools, especially toilets, giving rise to privacy concerns. Concern over the safety of girls, largely attributed to the idea of vestal honour as the mainstay of family honour, goes hand in hand. Incidents of eve-teasing or other forms of harassments on the way to or from the school are not rare in India.
Last year, a video surfaced on the social media showing two girls in Uttar Pradesh harassed by men with no help in sight. Moreover, conservative and orthodox families fear an amorous pre-marriage relationship of the girl as well as a potential lack of a suitable match for a qualified girl, triggering the fact that women’s education in India still lacks the steam.
In most of the cases, the importance of higher education in a woman’s life is no more than that of disposables. A good match always scores more than a good school or scholarship. Several Indian families, till date, prefer spending on their daughter’s marriage than their education, especially higher or specialized education. The participation of women in vocational or technical education is still not encouraging.
Household chores are more important that women’s education in India
Even if someone lucky gets through, suitability of women’s education in India is measured at the parlance of how comfortably it complements the ‘must-do’ – household chores, childbearing and rearing, etc.
An anecdote from Sudha Murthy spells her difficult journey at an engineering college full of jeering male counterparts and a want of ladies’ room.
Another anecdote from Pepsi CEO Indira Nooyi recalls how her mother admonished her for not bringing milk for her children on the day Ms. Nooyi was named the President of the beverage major.
While many women are able to work their way out, several others comply with the age-old roles for women defined by the society. Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.”
It is perhaps now that the governments have realized its meaning. Several schemes were announced to boost women’s education with focused measures replacing empty words.
The northern state of Haryana in India, notorious for a skewed sex ratio and ultra-conservative, informal village councils who often consider girls wearing jeans or marrying out of community a sin, has recently introduced a programme for girls.
Titled ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters), the programme offers incentives to parents who facilitate the education of their daughters. A federal government programme, ‘Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna’, too, incentivizes parents to ensure that their daughters give a fillip to the female literacy rates and contribute to the emerging labour force of India.
It is time that women’s education in India transcends the social and economic disparity rampant in the country. Talk to your domestic helps or drivers to help them understand why their daughters should attend school. Tell your relatives and friends not to marry their daughters off only because there may not be a better match again. You can just begin the movement!
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