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Report Reveals, Of The 415 Million Indians Who Never Stepped Into A School, 58% Are Women

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By Devanik Saha,

“You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women,” India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said.

As many as 415 million people in India, almost three times the population of Russia, have never attended any educational institute, of which 242 million (58%) are female, an IndiaSpend analysis of census data reveals.

The data reveal three major trends:

1. As many as 1,403 females have never attended any educational institution for every 1,000 males who have not done so. The ratio increases sharply from 17 years till the 30-34 year age group where it is 2,009—which means for every man who has never attended an educational institution, there are two women who haven’t.

2. In terms of attending schools, the number of females per 1,000 males remains fairly stable till the age of 16, and drops significantly from ages 17 to 24. And more females than males (who are older than 24 years) are attending schools post marriage, especially in rural areas.

3. For colleges, the ratio is fairly stable in the 18-19 year age group but starts dropping from the 20-24 year age group. The trend observed in colleges eventually translates into fewer women entering the workforce.

India’s sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) is 943, but only 845 females are currently attending an educational institution (including schools, colleges, vocational centres, literacy centres and other institutions) for every 1,000 males who do.

As many as 314 million people in India are currently attending an educational institution of which only 45.7% (144 million) are females.

The pan-India ratio fluctuates between 905 and 885 in the age groups of 0-14 years and starts dropping from 15 years onwards. The 25-29 year age group has the worst ratio at 587 females who ever attended school for every 1,000 men.

A closer look at the data reveals that women in rural India fare worse than urban India. Only 837 females are enrolled in an institution in rural India for every 1,000 males as against 861 in urban India.

There are two major reasons for the trends, according to Rakhee Badhwar, Rajasthan State Programme Manager at Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), an advocacy.

Early marriage of girls. As soon as a girl turns 17 or 18, parents start worrying about marriage, especially in rural areas, Badhwar said. As many as 41.3% girls in India are married before 19, according to census data.

Lack of transport. More often than not, schools and colleges are located far from the girl’s home in rural areas. Safety concerns and lack of transport prompt parents to stop girls from attending schools/colleges.

Nearly 17 million Indian children are married between the ages of 10 and 19–6% of the age group, as IndiaSpend had reported earlier.

Of these married children, 76%, or 12.7 million, are girls, according to census data. Only four million boys in this age group are married, reinforcing the fact that girls are significantly more disadvantaged.

The rural-urban divide is evident–47.3% 19-year-old women are married in rural India as against 29.2% in urban areas.

Women drop out at secondary levels, but change is happening in rural areas post marriage

Across India, 872 females attend schools for every 1,000 males. This ratio starts declining from 17 years till the age group of 20-24 years, where it is 656, and then increases in subsequent age brackets.

Though India has achieved impressive levels of enrolment at the primary level–101.4% as IndiaSpend had reported–the number plunges to as low as 52% at the higher secondary level.

The data also revealed an interesting trend–1.55 million women aged more than 24 years are attending schools–of which 1.19 million (77%) are in rural areas, bucking the usual trend.

“Yes, there has been some awareness in rural areas about pursuing education post marriage, but it needs to be strengthened,” Badhwar said.

There are several adult education programs run by non-government organisations (NGOs): TaraAkshar by Development Alternatives, Adult Literacy Program (Women) by Pratham, and Education for Adult Women by PRAYAS.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development runs the Sakshar Bharat (Literate India) programme to promote adult education.

Fewer females attend college; India has one of the lowest female workforce rates.

As the data reveal, the high enrolment of females in school does not translate into high college enrolment.

Currently, only 691 females attend college for every 1,000 males. The ratio drops from 825 in the age group of 19 years to just 531 at 25-29 years.

Absence of females in colleges translates to fewer women in the workforce, and, therefore, lower contribution to the country’s GDP.

At 17%, Indian women contribute less to the country’s GDP than the global average of 37%. By contrast, China registers 41%, sub-Saharan Africa–often considered the most backward region the world by many indices–39%, and Latin America 33%, IndiaSpend had reported, based on a report by McKinsey Global Institute.

To increase women in the workforce over a decade, India needs to close gender gaps in primary and secondary education, improve skills, and strengthen legal provisions for women and enforce laws, the report said.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development announced the Pragati Scholarship last year to one girl per family–with income less than Rs 6 lakh per annum–for technical education in colleges across India.

Click here for the raw data.

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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