There is a very real gender imbalance in our country. One one hand, we have a number of female CEOs leading banks and corporations, while on the other, there is a terrifying culture of not just sexual violence but also casual sexism deeply ingrained in our society. This is not just India’s problem. We’ve seen it in the erasure of Hatshepsut – ancient Egypt’s first female pharaoh whose male successor made it a point to remove her from pharaonic records. We see it in the casual omittance of Ada Lovelace, the first person to ever write a computer algorithm, while Charles Babbage is lauded as the father of computing. We see it in riddles that assume that you won’t even imagine a mother to be a doctor and not the father and in the young girls who stop wanting to be scientists. We see it in a nation that cannot place women between a goddess and a second-class citizen.
There is no panacea for sexism. It has to be phased out, slowly and over generations. It is particularly difficult in developing countries, but educating daughters makes a tangible difference. Most arguments for educating girls are established from the point of view of the gains towards society, not the intrinsic gains of the girls themselves. Be that as it may, educating girls is essential simply because they deserve it as much as anyone else. Education, especially for girls living in poverty in countries like India, is extremely complicated. Girls’ lives and voices get lost when research and arguments centre exclusively on enrollment and dropout rates in schools even though the discussions are supposedly about them. It is crucial to recognise their socio-political realities and an education system must be designed to work around and also counter it.
Girls must go to school, stay, and graduate. Their education must help them recognise that they are equal persons with skill sets, aspirations, the right to make choices, and a voice that can speak out against discrimination. Given the opportunity, women have achieved excellence in every field imaginable, from Nadia Murad to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, there are stories of female resilience and excellence. All that is left is to balance the playing field.