By Athira Mohan of Teach For India
Who is your sister? I am she.
Who is your mother? I am she.
Day dawns the same for you and me.
Equality and gender discrimination is one of the most widely discussed topics in our country. In the educational sector when we talk about equality, it’s not just about the equal number of boys and girls in the classroom but also about the equal opportunities and avenues available for both, resulting in equal participation and achievements. Which means the society should stop negative gender stereotyping in any form; and all types of sports, vocational courses and subjects should be promoted for both girls and boys. Sadly, this is not the situation in our country. In our country, the literacy rate for women is lesser when compared with that of men while only 55% of girls between the ages of 11-14 are attending school.
So what are the barriers to access education for girls in India?
For years together, society has defined roles for women and girls. There is a persisting barrier to girls. There is a need for equality and empowerment and the need to re-define and in some cases de-stigmatize men’s role. The assumption and common practice that girls and women look after the home and the family are responsible for getting girls married early in life. Further, early childbirth is a stubborn and very real stereotype that not only discriminates against women and girls but limits men’s participation and connection with society and reduces the enrollment of girls in school.
Poverty and negative parental attitudes towards educating daughters and choosing son’s education over that of a daughter’s is also a major barrier to girl’s education. In India, women’s education is also linked with employment, which means children are educated because they are to get some employment. Those people who are not in favour of sending their daughters for employment do not feel the necessity to educate them.
Many times, overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources such as separate toilets, washing areas as well as sanitary products can discourage girls who are menstruating from attending schools. With many girls being too poor to buy the sort of basic products many teens take for granted, they rely on donations, torn strips of cloth and prefer to miss school.
We all will benefit from living in a more evolved world where policies that are not based on gender. We all benefit from living in more compassionate times when both the genders are considered equal and given equal opportunities. Some ways to work around these barriers could be having adequate machinery to look after the various programmes in this field, which requires concentrated attention, special care and individual guidance. The number of lady officers should be increased to speed up the process and they should be provided with efficient facilities to maintain regular contact within their field of work.
The problems of women enrollment are also very closely connected to the problem of education of adult women. In fact, the success of women’s education depends very largely on the implementation of women’s education programmes for adults. Ignoring women and a general lack of communication create mental barriers and shut out a large percentage of adult women from the outside world. Special incentives sponsored by the government of India should be provided to girls to ensure that the enrollment numbers do not fall.
Although equality of sexes has been guaranteed in the laws of the land, there has been gender bias in the curricula provisions. Topics in the textbooks depict girls as homemakers, wives and mothers. Girls are shown as passive, timid, and dependent, whereas boys as courageous and high achievers. This bias should be removed from the curriculum to ensure we are not teaching any wrong mindsets to our children in schools.
As a country, we should strive for the best. India should support, develop, finance and implement gender-responsive education sector plans. As Napoleon rightly said, “Nation’s progress is impossible without trained and educated mothers. If the women of my country are not educated, about half of the people would be ignorant!”