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‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, But What Are We Teaching Our ‘Betas’?

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*Trigger warning: Violence against women*

“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world” – Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize Laureate, Activist

Why do we talk about educating girls and advancing gender parity? Because we want our girls to go to school and grow up to be a part of the national workforce.

The world celebrated International Education Day yesterday, (24th Jan), and so, it is time for us, as global citizens, to take a moment, to think about how we are going to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal #4 Quality Education and Goal #5 Gender Equality.

What Is Quality Education?

According to former UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon, the institution of education is not a mass-production assembly line, whose sole purpose is to deliver educated adults; it is to empower children to become productive citizens, who are ready to lead the future. These children will grow up one day and forge societies that are more than just, tolerant and peaceful. That is the meaning of quality education.

There are three essentials to quality education: ensuring access to quality teachers; providing use of quality learning tools and professional development; and the establishment of safe and supportive quality learning environments.

Why do we talk about educating girls and advancing gender parity? Because we want our girls to go to school and grow up to be a part of the national workforce. Primary and secondary education and beyond is critical to ensuring that women are employed. They are more likely to have professional and technical jobs, assume leadership roles, earn more and marry later.

Child marriage, female infanticide and infant mortality rates can go down while family planning, maternal health and neonatal health rates can go up. Educated mothers can provide better healthcare and education to the next generation. This can exert natural checks on the population and lift communities out of poverty.

Gender parity brings economic prosperity. In India, closing the gender gap in the workforce could contribute $2.9 Trillion to our GDP, which could be a 60% increase by the year 2025. Legal, social and cultural issues, however, make this a challenge. So yes, education matters. It matters a lot. It’s a game-changer.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao: Publicity Stunt?

The Bachao Beti Padhao programme was launched by our Prime Minister in 2015, with an aim of ensuring the survival of the girl child and better access to education.

The National Commission for Women India will have you know, that we have a Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Campaign (Save the girl child, educate the girl child) run by the Ministry for Women and Child Development. The programme was launched by our Prime Minister in 2015, with an aim of ensuring the survival of the girl child and better access to education. Looking back at the last five years of this scheme, it’s clear that there are three fundamental issues: insufficient allocation of funds, inadequate oversight and supervision and an imbalance in expenditure patterns.

As it turns out, I believe the programme has been launched solely for publicity reasons. Nearly 60% of the funds allocated to the BBBP scheme have been spent on media activities. Less than 25% have been disbursed to districts and states and 19% have not been released by the government at all. Although Rs. 644 Crores have been earmarked by the government for this fund, only Rs. 159 Crore have been made available to States.

According to the Human Development Index, the expected years of schooling for girls is 12.9 years while government expenditure on education itself is only 3.8% of the nation’s GDP and literacy rates stand at 69%. In the Gender Inequality Index, India has fallen to 0.829. In the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, India has slipped to the 112th rank.

Save, Raise, Educate The Girl Child. But For What?

Now let’s say we buy into the whole BBBP has been tremendously ‘successful’ idea. What exactly are we raising our girls for? So that they can grow up, in what the Thomson Reuters Foundation called the most dangerous country for women? Where rape is reported every 15 minutes?

In 1973, a 26-year old nurse in Mumbai was attacked, sodomised and strangled by a ward attendant, which left her in a vegetative state for the next 40 years. In 1990, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was raped and murdered in Kolkata. In 1995, a social worker campaigning against child marriage was gang-raped in a small village, in Rajasthan.

In 1996, a law student was found raped and strangled at her home in New Delhi by a classmate, and the son of a former police officer. In 2012, a medical intern was brutally raped and tortured on a moving bus and later succumbed to her injuries.

In 2018, an 8-year old girl in Jammu and Kashmir was held captive in a temple and raped before being battered to death with a stone. In 2019, the charred remains of a young veterinarian were found under a flyover in Telangana, after she was raped and murdered. Before the year was done, a gang-rape survivor was burnt alive in Uttar Pradesh by her rapist, while on her way to Court to attend a hearing.

Yes. Save the girl child. Raise the girl child. Educate the girl child. But for what?

Eradicating social evils such as gender-based sex-selection, denial of healthcare and plummeting attendance in schools is a noble goal. Educating women is a truly humanitarian cause. Let’s all come together and show the world that our girls have the right to be born, to be healthy, to be educated and to be employed.

But what about the men? Shruti Kapoor, a good friend of mine, an economist and gender equality activist was invited by a Turkish news channel to appear as a guest on a panel debating the rape pandemic in India. She asked one of the other guests, a politician, what the ruling government was doing to ensure the safety of women in India.

The politician went on a rant about the various welfare schemes that our government had organised to provide financial support and employment for women.

But what are you doing to educate men, my friend asked. To change the mindset?

The politician, whether because she was being deliberately obtuse or because she was genuinely ignorant became defensive and prattled on about how changing women’s status would fight the rape crisis. My friend resignedly shook her head but held her peace. Because the question still remained: What about our boys?

After all, it is men that commit rape. Men that commit intimate partner violence. Men in power that deny, discriminate and abuse. Men that sexually harass. This is not to say that men cannot be victims of gender-based violence, but when you talk about educating women about being independent, how can you ignore the fact that you need to educate men about women?

Yes. We must have daughters. We must raise them well. We must educate them. We must take care of them. We must encourage them. But how on earth do we keep them safe? It starts with our boys.

Human Development Index

The UN HDP report on the Human Development Index made an alarming observation: There is an increasing bias all over the world against gender equality. Only 14% of women and 10% of men worldwide are free of bias. This has been attributed to a rise in prejudice and social beliefs that obstruct gender equality. In countries like India, where there is power involved, the report has observed an increase in the backlash to women’s empowerment.

We can organise welfare schemes and enact stringent laws; we can create fast-track courts and conduct police sensitisation sessions; we can make reservations and give subsidies, but the greatest change we can bring about in societal mindset is when we teach our boys the meaning of consent.

So yeah, save our girls and educate our girls.

But don’t forget to teach our boys.

You must be to comment.
  1. aayushi gupta

    Perfect one !!

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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