Editor’s Note: Sahana Sriram of Teach For India writes about the importance of educating the girl child and her experience from teaching in classrooms. Her students from Grade 8 Mubasher Shaikh and Sahil Kahar also share their views on girl child education.
While teaching History one day, I realised how meaningful the word ‘humanitarianism’ is. It was coined keeping in mind the human values of empathy and care. This word has put a great pressure on human beings to actually become humans. By virtue of life, we all are born humans but we do not become human beings till the time we embrace humanity.
Sumona (name changed), a 14-year-old girl, is a major part of my teaching life. She is the wisest child I have ever met. Her story is full of struggles. She is entangled in the web of patriarchy. She is neglected, beaten and abused. The child has the zeal to study which is slowly being extinguished by the patriarchal society. The child is suffering from depression, and yet there is no one to care for her.
I was aware of gender inequality since childhood and I even faced it in school but Sumona’s story was an eye-opener on how deep rooted the problem is and what impact it can have on someone. Her story made me realise that Indian society is struggling to embrace humanity. Although we are growing as a society, we are far from being humans in its true sense. We have not been able to treat our girls as humans. If any change has to happen in this society, it has to begin from the society becoming human and caring about everyone as human beings irrespective of diversity.
These are two essays that students from my class wrote about the importance of equal opportunity and educating the girl child.
For me, equal opportunity means humans get what they deserve as a virtue of humanity and not as dictated by society. The Indian society is, however, plagued by gender inequality. The girl child is restricted from many things due to gender. Though I am blessed to be born in a family of liberals, many women in my community are living this horror every day.
One of my closest friends has been told to study till Class 10. After that, even if she wants, she would not be allowed to study further. I believe that there are two main reasons for this. First, gender stereotyping is ingrained in the society and people operate on it rigidly without thinking of the outcomes. Second, some families follow these principles due to societal pressure. The second reason is directly related to the first and hence, the major barrier in educating a girl child is the mindset of people.
There are numerous programs that the government started to ensure education of a girl child. However, all these schemes are short-term solutions with no long-term impact. If the impact has to be long-term, there has to be a shift in the mindset of the society. We need to find solutions that not only protect a girl child but also that make the society realise the importance of a girl child and why we need to provide equal opportunities.
Changing mindsets is a chain reaction. If one person understands the importance of equal opportunity, they will help others understand, who will further inspire others and this chain will keep growing. One day, it will reach all parts of India and there will be the day when our dream for equal opportunities for everyone will come true.
To me, equal opportunity means that everyone should get equal rights and there should be no discrimination among humans. Though India is a free country and the Constitution treats us equally, that is not the case with our society. Both girls and boys are humans and are equal. However, when a girl child is born, people do not seem to be very happy as they feel that girls cannot do what a boy can. Girls and boys both have the right to excellent education. Yet, we see every day that boys are allowed to go to school whereas girls are asked to do household chores.
Some of the families in my community send boys to school but do not allow the girls to do the same. Even if they do, they are not ready to spend money on educating a girl, as, to them, the only job that a girl has is to help at home.
In order to change the mindset of people, we have to take the initiative. We should explain to families how important girls are. We should show them examples of what education can do for families and how women have broken all barriers to become successful and bring about change. We should explain to them that everyone has equal rights and if we take away these rights, our country will never develop. One of the major reasons that other countries are developing is that they are providing equal opportunities to everyone based on merit.
The shift will take time to happen. But, if we can inspire a small set of individuals to change the way they think, it will not be long before everyone starts thinking this way, providing equal opportunities to girls.