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Religious Dogma, Threats Of Violence Are Keeping Girls Out Of Schools In Kashmir

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

The importance of education for human development has been emphasized through various international and national fundamental rights, acts, principles, etc. Article 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has declared the right to education as a fundamental right. In our country, the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002 has made education a fundamental right for children in the age group of 6-14 years, irrespective of their gender. So there should be no bias on the basis of gender and girls should be provided with equal opportunities as their counterparts for attaining education.

In modern times, education is considered as an important and powerful tool for the socio-economic development of a nation. The educational level of a country determines its progress and prosperity—as education molds our behavior, attitude and our outlook and opens new corridors of success for us. Education is vital for human resource development and social transformation of society.

Women play an essential role in the overall development of a nation. Education makes women and girls aware of their legal, social, political and economic rights. It enables them to fight against any discrimination and makes them realize their potential. It not only encourages them in political participation and financial independence but also improves their quality of life.

Image for representation only. Via Getty

Despite the above-mentioned significance of girls’ education, the status of education of women and girls in Jammu and Kashmir is quite dismal. The overall literacy rate of Jammu and Kashmir is 68.74% (census 2011), and it is among one of the educationally backward regions of India.

There is also a significant gender gap in the literacy rate. The male literacy rate is 78.26%, and female literacy rate is just 58.01%, which depicts a gender literacy gap of 20.25%. Though there has been considerable progress in the female literacy rate from earlier data of 2001 census (43.0%), the gender disparity in education still exists in the region.

As per the reports, there has been an increase in literacy rates among females in urban areas, but in rural and far-flung areas, the situation is still unsatisfactory. The women and girls of Jammu and Kashmir also lag far behind in technical and professional education. There is a dearth of women judges, pilots and administrators too as their enrollment in these fields is very low.

There are various factors responsible for this gender disparity in education between men and women in our state (now UT). Firstly, we all know that there has been political instability in Jammu and Kashmir for the past three decades. No one knows what is going to happen in the next hour of a day in Kashmir. So parents fear to send their girls to school and prefer that they  stay at home. The girls often have to pass through many areas occupied by armed forces while going to their educational institutes, and due to fear, they avoid attending schools and stay inside their homes.

Image for representation only. Via Flickr/Jabar Adnan

Secondly, due to poverty, most women, especially those living in far-flung rural areas, are mostly dependent on men for survival. They lack the awareness of their rights and duties. They do not have the courage to make decisions of their own and hence rely on the decisions taken by their parents. And due to their stereotypical thinking, parents believe that educating their girls is only a wastage of time, money and energy.

Due to this very thinking, the girls in rural areas end up losing interest in their studies, and they often drop out in primary or middle stage. Though most of the girls may be enrolled in schools, only a few of them reach the secondary or higher secondary stage—as they are engaged in household and agricultural work or are married off before reaching college stage. Only a small percentage of them attain higher education. The number of dropouts in these stages is more than the number of enrollments in the primary stage.

Thirdly, there is a lack of good schools, teachers, and hostels for girls. We also lack proper infrastructure along with transport facilities in our Jammu and Kashmir. As most parents, especially in rural areas, prefer sending their girls to a girls-only school due to their religious and cultural beliefs, it becomes an issue when such schools don’t exist in most areas.

Along with this deterrence, another encumbering factor is the transport problem in the region. There are still some roads in our rural areas where only one or two local service vehicles are seen  in the early morning and late evening hours of the day. This becomes a great hindrance for all those girls who have to travel long distances for attending their educational institutes.

Fourthly, there are some socio-economic and cultural beliefs and constraints which hinder girls education in Jammu and Kashmir. We usually have big families, and due to financial problems, the parents prefer to educate their male children over female children. There are still few religious and cultural dogmas among the people, which become a great impediment for women and girls when it comes to stepping in the world of science and technology.

Most girls in traditional Muslim families are still restricted to traditional education, and they are not allowed to explore the world of science and technology. Besides these important factors, there are countless other obstacles which have badly affected girls’ education in the valley.

Over the years, the government at the central and state level has taken many initiatives and launched many schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and several others to promote education among girls. Various scholarships are given to girl students at different stages. Several NGOs have also played an important role in this field, and the results have been fruitful to some extent. As a result of these initiatives and  interventions, there has been a continuous rise in female literacy in Kashmir.

But the task has not ended yet, and the gender gap in literacy still exists. This problem needs to be addressed properly. Much needs to be done in rural areas where this gender disparity in literacy is wider. The Government authorities and NGOs, along with other socio-religious organizations, have to come forward to eradicate this disparity and make people aware of the importance of girls’ education.

There should be newer avenues and attractions like free books, uniform, transport facilities, scholarships, flexible timing, etc. to promote female education in the valley. Also, educational institutes should be safer places for our sisters and daughters. There should be separate allotment of funds both at central and state level for raising the standards of girl education.

Along with formal education, facilities for Open Distance Learning (ODL) for women are also indispensable to raise the level of female literacy in Kashmir. There must be some awareness programs in place to help people understand the futility of religious and socio-cultural dogma that come in the way of a better future for their girls.

In conclusion, it can be said that sound decisions by policymakers, rational governance of administrators and a good attitude of the common folk can surely help in raising the standard of girls’ education in Jammu and Kashmir.

Featured image source: Flickr/Jabar Adnan
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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