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‘Educate Her, But Not Too Much’: Why Educated Girls Become ‘Socially Unfit’

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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.

Gender occupies a pivotal role when one is referring to the traditions in societies such as India. In conventional social arrangements, gender identity is a significant foundation based on which one’s destiny is designed. In an orthodox setup, everything ends and begins with gender. It limits, prohibits, obstructs, dictates what one can access, avail, do or cannot do.

In such a background, the terms ‘girl’ and ‘education’ are often seen in an inverse relationship. This is because these two terms carry a load of societal norms and meanings, which are usually understood to be functioning oppositely. While education is understood as a right every human deserves, it is also seen as an opportunity which enables humans to become self-sufficient, self-reliant and independent. It is believed to empower humans to achieve control over their lives and decisions. With education, one can acquire success, respect and prosperity in life.

Image for representation only. Via Getty

The term girl, on the other hand, carries a contradictory understanding. It is a gender identity that bears the load of societal norms, expectations and regulations. This gender identity sometimes prohibits girls/women from becoming self-sufficient, self-reliant and independent. A girl or a woman is often expected to be submissive, passive, dependent and not assertive.

This identity forbids them from entering the “public sphere”—a sphere considered to be a man’s domain, and thereby, denying them success and prosperity. Thus, this gender identity of being a woman or girl, restrains her to a socially-allocated sphere, the “private sphere”, i.e., home. The society’s private (women, home) and public (men, outside world) sphere divisions are the outcome of a gendered mindset, practices, beliefs and norms, which aggravate the social and cultural barriers for women.

This phenomenon is not limited to traditional, rural societies, but also visible in modern cities and societies. Though the manner of appearing might be different, the practice remains the same. When one refers to inaccessibility of education, lack of financial resources is often pointed as the single most dominant factor, and it does play a role, but not always because what constraints more is the bondage of patriarchy which binds in the women with the chains of gender.

It is often assumed that lack of money is the reason girls from poor households dropout from schools. But that’s not the only reason. They are also needed to do household chores and take care of their younger siblings. But what is significantly interesting is that societal attitude and perspective are not so different in homes, families and classes, which are labelled as middle or upper class.

school girls
Image for representation only. Via Flickr

Inaccessibility to education is not always when one has never been to school or drops out early but also when one is stopped from attaining higher education. For many women and girls, the lack of freedom to opt for a field of their choice or to pursue higher education too is an issue. Even our subjects are divided in a gendered manner, science for boys and home science for girls!

There are numerous social-cultural issues which contribute to inaccessibility of education for girls, but the most prominent is the societal mindset—the attitude which fosters a controlling outlook towards girls and women. It is internalized that if you do not control the women of the house, it will bring disgrace to the family, as it often said in Hindi, zyada padhne se bigad jati hai ladkiya (Girls become too outspoken with too much education).

Perhaps the society feels that if the girls are independent, aware and confident, they won’t blindly follow your orders or do what they are told. They will ask questions and not just nod their heads at every instruction; they will put their interests first and not be as submissive as the patriarchy might like them to be.

Therefore, denying them education, which will prohibit them from gaining any information or knowledge about their rights and societal wrongs, would make women an easy target of patriarchy. Not just that, these women could then be the very instruments to ensure a patriarchal setup and women’s subjugation.

There are many social and cultures practices, and beliefs which obstruct women’s way to education. Some of them are:

1. She is a girl: The first thing which gives way to barriers in a girl’s life is her gender identity. This determines the entire course of her life, and it’s a cross-sectional phenomenon.

2. She HAS to get married: Again, a cross-sectional phenomenon, which makes the families internalize that the girl will go away, and there’s no benefit for them in educating her. It is a gain for others, but loss for us.

3. Natural order of things?: A private, domestic sphere is where a girl belongs. So she should help her mother. Socially-allocated domestic household responsibilities of women are not only restricted to poor or middle-class homes. Even in the upper-class households, despite servants and helpers, it is the women who should make sure that everything is done right.

There’s an assumption that a woman’s prime destiny is to bear children and take care of the family—thereby limiting women to one sphere and restraining them from developing as an individual. Women are then seen through the lens of their societal roles— as daughters, wives, mothers and sisters, but never as individuals.

4. Educate her but not too much: A certain level of education is enough, at least for matrimonial ads, right? Well, this too is a cross-sectional behavior. Education will be given to a girl child but as a part of preparing the girl for her ‘main’ journey, where, along with teaching her domestic chores. Education is provided to make her ‘sarvagun sampann’ (bestowed with all the great qualities).

5. Unsafe environment: harassment, rape, violence has now become a part of almost every city and village. To keep the women ‘safe’, they are often caged within their homes. This becomes far more critical in villages where women have to go miles to attend schools/colleges. Thereby, to keep the honour of their family intact, women’s mobility is restrained.

Image for representation only. Via Getty

We, as a society, also believe that no one will marry a more educated girl. As, in Indian societies, a woman should always be lesser than a man in every sense. Hence, we keep on giving preference to boys’ education over girls. We see girls as a burden while boys as assets.

Overcoming these gendered norms is the only way India can become a developed nation. Since these problems are rooted in cultural practices and social attitudes, they can be eliminated only by dealing with gendered aspects of society. Changes in cultural practices can only come when we make people aware of the importance of education for the development of society. We need to understand that marriage is not the primary goal of a girl’s life. We must make household chores a shared responsibility.

Therefore, for any educational policy’s formulation and implementation to be successful, gender-based discrimination needs to be erased. When we stop looking at women or girls through their socially-assigned identity and role, we can perceive them as free and equal individuals who have every right to live with respect, dignity, and equality.

This article is the outcome of valuable inputs and contributions given by Pinky.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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