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Locked Out Of Education: Many Girls Might Not Return To Schools After The Pandemic

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement supported by Malala Fund to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

In a world where more than 130 million girls already do not have access to education, the COVID-19 pandemic has served another major blow to the education sector all across the world. According to a report by UNESCO, 158 million girls are out of school due to the interminable lockdown.

Many Girls In India Won’t Go Back To School Once Lockdown Ends

This unprecedented halt to education has had a ripple effect in the lives of these girls. In India, where female literacy amounts for just 65.5%, the closure of schools and colleges has once again pushed many girls into the confines of domestic burden. This gendered and intersectional impact of the pandemic on education has unfortunately reinforced patriarchal norms in most homes.

Image for representation only.

As books and lessons left the lives of many girls, cooking and cleaning soon took their place. The pen was replaced by the broom, and homework was reduced to household chores. Many girls across the country have become victims of gendered stereotypes and have no option but to abide by these roles and responsibilities.

In rural India, where only a small section of the female population is enrolled in educational institutes, girls are expected to not only manage household chores but also work in the field. They walk for miles to fetch water and fuelwood, leaving little or no time for studying during the day. In most households, the load of domestic work disproportionately falls on the female members. Thus, posing a threat to the education of numerous girls across the country.

Since time immemorial, the toxic stereotypes have limited the position of women and girls to the confines of the household, impacting their life adversely. Irrespective of the countless achievements of girls and women throughout their lives, society has always conveniently managed to reduce a women’s worth to the roundness of her roti.

The coronavirus lockdown has hit women and girls the hardest—considering how it has completely sidelined the importance of their education and career. Their time, which should be invested in reading, writing and learning, is mostly spent doing unpaid care work now. According to a report by Plan International, women in low-income countries and rural communities spend up to 14 hours on care work every day.

While many educational institutes have initiated distance learning classes, in India, poverty and gender disparities stand as significant barriers in access to digital learning. Various socio-cultural and economic obstacles limit girls’ access to these online resources. In a recent study conducted by the UNICEF, only 29% of internet users are female—highlighting the vast gender-based digital divide in India. This digital divide mirrors deeprooted gender disparities within society.

When Finances Are Scarce, Families Will Prefer To Send Their Boys, Not Girls To School

For many girls, this situation is temporary. They will soon return to their schools and colleges, but some may never return.

The pandemic has severely impacted the economic and monetary conditions of various families. The lack of social protection programs and financial pressure may lead to a high number of dropout rates after lockdown ends. Many girls, especially in rural areas, will be forced out of schools and colleges due to the perception that deems a girl’s education to be a wasteful investment anyway.

Image for representation only.

This would widen the educational gap between boys and girls and would, in turn, curtail their future prospects. Young girls in most low-income families will not be able to assert their independence due to economic insecurity. As a consequence of the strained financial conditions, many adolescent girls may be forced into marriages too.

They might end up becoming victims of sexual and other forms of violence and be at a potential risk of early pregnancies impacting their overall health too. Many girls, when forced to quit school, will lose out on their social-support mechanisms such as friendship, emotional or informational support, a sense of belonging, etc. At a very young age, they will lose the agency to make informed choices about their life—a chance for a better life even.

Consequently, the indefinite lockdown may push various young girls into a downward spiral, which can set them onto an ill- fated path.

The series of mishappenings triggered due to the ignorance of girls’ education in times of COVID-19 paints a horrific picture. This picture provokes us to contemplate, develop and implement mitigation strategies that will ensure minimal disruption in education.

In order to do so, it is imperative to prioritize girls’ education as a strategic developmental policy. Appropriate methods should be developed to facilitate distance learning in areas where students do not have access to digital resources. Reading and writing material should be delivered through easily accessible forms of communication, such as television or radio.

The government must work on creating accessible remote learning platforms. As for the educational institutions, they must ensure that students return after the lockdown ends by providing a flexible learning approach and cover up the syllabus through extra classes. Most importantly, the participation of girls in decision-making should be strengthened. They should have the right to voice their opinions both at home and at school.

For a country that has given the world remarkable women from Anandibai Joshi to Justice Anna Chandi to Kalpana Chawla, we owe it to our girls—the right to have access to education irrespective of the times. Not just for their better future but also for us to evolve socially, politically and economically and grow as a nation.

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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.

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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.

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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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