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Less Likely To Return To Schools Post Lockdown, The Pandemic Has Hit Girls The Hardest

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

The most vulnerable are destined to pay the heaviest price for their existence in what is an exploitative, bourgeois world exercising its unbridled hegemony over them. It is a jagged pill to swallow, but systemic discriminatory practices against the poor and marginalized classes not only exist but flourish in the circles protected by a network of caste, gender, and capitalist privileges.

India’s migrant workers faced a long walk home amid the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Reuters

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, restless in its transmission, has exposed India’s lack of consideration for the plight and needs of the weakest sections of society, including education of underprivileged girls.

In India, the remotest and weakest communities bore the brunt of the abrupt lockdown with millions of daily wage workers and migrants losing their livelihood. They were forced to set out on an abominable enterprise—walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their native towns, starved and badly-off. The vicious system watched their plight from a distance and swept its inability to provide timely and adequate relief under the carpet.

Since the nationwide school closures, it is a rather unpleasant union for millions of families. The poor are simply out of work, scraping along on what the government has provided in the name of covid relief. The continuity of schooling has been disrupted, and it is likely to send a lot of girls back in the tiresome drudgery of household chores, taking care of the family’s needs, and standing up to the pressure for marriage.

The detrimental impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on children’s mental health is the least of concerns for the government and the citizens alike. For the girls from poverty-stricken families neglected by the government and the media, one cannot possibly rule out the most dreadful consequence of the current predicament: being coerced into child labor and child trafficking.

Image source: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

The cases of child abuse during the lockdown are on the rise, and therefore we must understand that schools act as a safe place for children from toxic households. It should not be surprising if a lot of young girls drop out of schools in the post-covid world while their families set about to recover their losses at the cost of their children’s education.

The transition from classroom experience to virtual teaching is not as exciting and accommodating for every stakeholder who is expected to quickly assimilate the process. The majority of government schools in India are not equipped with the needful technology to impart online education—the teachers and the students are unaccustomed to online classes. The problem does not stop at the lack of experience and resources, we must also understand that the classrooms are not mere walls that surround the children where they are expected to perform their work with machine-like efficiency.

A physical classroom is a constellation of shared conversations and stories, games and altercations, care and friendships, and love and inspiration. Schools become more than just a place for learning for the poor children—they provide food and nutrition, psychological and in some cases, economic aid.

With the schools shut due to the covid-19 threat, the government announced that it would ensure home delivery of mid-day meals, or food security allowance as per entitlement of the child to the affected families if the former was not feasible. However, several states failed to comply with the announcement. For instance, the RTI documents revealed that the Uttarakhand government did not provide food to around 1.4 lakh children under the mid-day meal scheme during April and May.

For a lot of people, online education is a distant, fantastical world with superficial promises and the illusion of classroom learning. It is not easy for girls from disadvantaged sections to continue their education from home. According to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey, only 14.9% of rural Indian households had internet access, and only 4.4% of them had computers. The survey also highlights the digital divide in the country where 36% of males have internet access compared to 16% females.

The prolonged period of school closures has magnified the lack of resources among the poor to support their children’s online education. Many simply do not have smartphones, internet connection, laptops and/or financial assistance to pay data bills. The privileged sections do not share the same experience and turn a blind eye to such ‘trivial’ matters.

Representational image. Via Getty

In Valanchery, Malappuram district of Kerala, a class X girl allegedly died by suicide because she did not have a smartphone and missed the online classes on the first day of the school reopening. The arrogant insistence on online education is proving to be prejudicial to the people who have been banished to the periphery by capitalism and casteism. The girls who had to fight very hard for their fundamental right to receive education in the first place again find themselves fighting poverty, deteriorating mental health, lack of access to the required resources, and sexual discrimination at the same time.

Only 23% of working-age women form part of the labor force in India, and therefore the economic recession due to the pandemic will affect women more than working men. About 12 million women (9 in urban and 3 in rural) lost their jobs in April and May. The girls from low-income families are likely to take up temporary/odd jobs to support themselves.

The education system worldwide has been impaired, and its return to normalcy will be anything but easy. The schools will need to implement stringent safety measures for the students and the staff. Majority of the government schools and many private institutions as well do not have the prerequisites to reopen, including safe drinking water from daily-inspected water purifiers, healthcare facility within the school premises, hygienic surroundings with plenty of fresh air, clean toilets, et cetera.

Most importantly, the government must acknowledge the risk to girls’ education and the existing gender divide in internet population. The government should devise district-wise plans to ensure that the girls do not quit school and provide economic assistance to families who can no longer afford to send their children to school.

The extent of hostel accommodation and existing scholarships for girl education should be increased. The GDP expenditure on education should be doubled from 3% to 6%. Giving in to the pandemic is not an option for India, we must choose to adapt anew, incorporate gender equity and social diversity in our well-thought-out education policies and reimagine public education system in India.

Featured image credit: Fickr/Piet Payer
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  1. Eeshan Fadnavis

    I like the way you are indulged in writing.
    Writing is a great thing to do and it sure takes some effort to come up with such good articles.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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

Bidisha was selected in’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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