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No Dedicated Teachers, Inadequate Infrastructure Contribute In Keeping Girls Out Of School

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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.

By Anjuman Begum:

There is a need for a substantive approach for the empowerment of women in marginalised communities through education, especially on the tea estates of Assam. But it is still a tall order.

No dedicated teachers, inadequate infrastructure, no congenial atmosphere to motivate students contribute in keeping girls out of school. There is also more stress on marriage for girls than education, low income of the parents, gender discrimination, the widespread perception that they will work as labourers in the tea garden that doesn’t require formal education etc. are harming education in the tea gardens. Being confined in the tea estates, cut off from the mainland area, deprives the community of exposure to the outside world to understand the need for education.

Himonti’s Story

Himonti Ghatwar

Himonti, a 22 years old single woman and a school dropout, from Gotonga tea state, Jorhat has no support from her family, so she started working. With her little income, she supported her sister’s education. “She wanted to study further. But when we are sinking in a river, we need to survive first and then we can think of education”, she says.

Himonti’s younger sister, Himalti failed in 10th standard, and since then she lost all motivation to study further. Lack of support from the family and economic hardship are holding her back.

Daughters are not preferred in her family and are subjected to domestic violence by her father and brothers. In a sexist society that places importance on boys, Himonti is barred from an education that can help her to raise her social capital.

A Gendered Existence

In a family of seven children, Himonti and her sister were the last two girls. Looking after them and household chores were too much of a burden on her mother. Domestic violence and alcoholism of the father further made her life miserable.

Due to the stress of her situation and blood pressure, their mother suffered a stroke and lost mobility in half of her body. “Since then our life has become hell. Daughters lost all the support from the family”, said Himonti.

Their mother was their emotional support, and she used to speak against the ill treatment by the sons and husband. “All the three women in the home are like animals, slaves and continuous ill-treatment was reserved for us”, said Himonti. Himonti’s parents and brothers have been informally taught and are daily wagers in tea gardens who don’t understand the importance of education.

An Escape?

Finding domestic violence unbearable, four years ago, Himonti and her sister started living separately. They were allotted one small room in the house that hardly fit two people. With great effort, the two sisters made it home. Himonti started working in the tea garden as a tea leaves plucker and earned about ₹3000 a month. She even managed to save ₹1000 for an emergency.

Himonti failed in class 10th standard, and since then she dropped her studies. Now her sister Himalti too failed, and due to an abusive situation in the family, she lost motivation to continue further. Himalti decided to get married to relieve herself from domestic violence.

Caste On Tea Estates

But nobody liked the boy she decided to marry because of caste differences. Villagers opposed too! Himonti and Himalti decided to go ahead. In March 2020, she eloped with the boy and got married.

Their family did not support the marriage. Himonti was asked to leave the house on the excuse that the smog from her kitchen causes suffocation to others. By that time lockdown started, she became homeless. One generous neighbour came to her rescue and offered to let her stay with them for the time being. Once the lockdown is lifted, Himonti has to find a shelter for herself to carry forward her life. She has ₹1000 as savings in her hand.

Struggles like this are ongoing for generations in the tea gardens of Assam. Educational policies and schemes to promote education in Assam include Mahila Samakhy (1989), District Primary Education Program (1994), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (1995), Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (2000) and the National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (2003-04).

But they require a proper review of its implementation in the tea gardens and assess it proved instrumental for the upliftment of the community. Education without economic empowerment will not yield any successful result for the tea garden community in Assam as it is lagging in terms of gender and basic income for a life with dignity.

This post is a part of Stories From Assam, a special series under the #BackToSchool campaign. Tell us how this lockdown has affected your education! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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