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When Capitalism Meets Patriarchy: How Privatisation In Educations Hurts Women And Girls

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.

Globalized modernity is brazenly paradoxical. One face of it is that of surging GDP rates and sky-scraping buildings. Another face, not apparent but dreadful, is that of starving bellies and proliferating slums. The shift from post world war Keynesian consensus to Neo-liberalism has thrown open sectors hitherto controlled by the state to private entities. The wave of privatization that it sent across the world undermined the state’s responsibility in ensuring the welfare and development of its people. It created new forms of inequality and aggravated the already existing forms. It pushed those living on the fringes beyond the fringes. It permeated all spheres of social life.

This article lays emphasis on the education of girls, one of the areas where the pervasive influence of privatization is seen. This is especially important, considering the push for privatisation in the draft National Education Policy (NEP, 2019). Privatization of education ends up excluding the marginalized groups from opportunities that the well-off have access to, and the condition of girls among these groups are far worse.

college students in line for admission
Representational image.

The quality education provided by private institutions is naturally found attractive by parents. But with scarcely any resources, they choose to send boys over girls to the private institutions. Thus, under the privatization ‘regime’, the marginalized and the girls among them are left to compete with others, no matter how unequal the opportunities are.

Neo-liberal privatisation aims to transfer social resources from public or state ownership to private ownership. It perceives social resources as an economic surplus that might become wasteful if not brought under the control of private ownership. This notion believes that only when they are commodified and an ‘exchange value’ is put upon them besides their use-value, will they be harnessed in the right way.

With the deregulation of social resources, a new environment of free competition is created where profits can be unlimitedly maximized. In India, as part of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) of the 1990s, many public sector enterprises were undervalued and sold to the private sector. Sectors like education were exempted from government spending to incentivize the growth of private schools. Though it is to be conceded that post-privatization, the country saw an increase in GDP rates and mushrooming of many hospitals and educational institutes, the promised utopia of welfare and development for all, never became a reality. While the economic reforms in India put a dent in the absolute poverty level, there has been an appalling surge in income inequality.

The intersectional and multilayered inequalities in India based on caste, class, and gender made this problem even more complicated. The social systems that have historically evolved here placed some sections of Indian masses in a privileged position and systematically discriminated against and excluded other sections.

Girl students in a class sit facing a teacher who is writing on the backboard
Representational image.

These systematically oppressed groups had their hopes high in the post-independent welfare projects. However, when the state started withdrawing from public services making room for the private sector their condition worsened. Quality education, one of the single most important factors that would have rectified material conditions became barely accessible. The state took a backseat in the education sector. The public funding of education was cut down. The private schools and educational institutes that burgeoned were expensive and unaffordable for the marginalized.

In the year 2018, the UGC granted autonomy to 62 educational institutions in the country including JNU, HCU, BHU, AMU etc. This autonomy aims to turn these institutions into self-financing ones. The result of this is that the students will be burdened by a fee hike in these institutions known for academic excellence. It goes against the founding values of equal access in higher education.

In the year 2019, on the pretext that for 19 years the hostel fee in JNU has not been revised, the administration proposed to increase it.

Given that JNU is a university that has been opening its doors to students irrespective of their economic and social backgrounds, this move naturally invited country-wide protests.

The recent Draft National Education Policy of the Union Government is a further push towards privatization, with its proposals to replace UGC with NHERA, introduce tenure track appointment, hike fees in institutions like IIT and more.

These policies contravene the ideals of equality, justice and freedom enshrined in the Constitution, distancing the poor and marginalized sections from development. Now, the impact of COVID-19 on these social groups in India will aggravate the situation.

The whole idea of privatising education is founded on the flawed notion of meritocracy. It propounds that in the environment of free competition, those with merit or deserving will succeed. But given that in an unjust social system merit is hereditary and class-ridden, this notion is irrational and ill-founded. The exclusion of the marginalized from education amounts to denying someone a basic right, decent livelihood, and good social standing, and ultimately, freedom.

In the case of girls from marginalized communities, where this cannot be truer, we can see that poverty combined with gender-based inequality and exclusion make them the most oppressed group. Since the privatization of education compels the disadvantaged families to choose from among their children who can be sent to private institutes and colleges, they tend to prioritize boys over girls.

This gender bias originates from the prejudices and stereotypes around gender and the patriarchal belief that better returns come from educating boys rather than girls. The gross reality is such that education, which would empower these girls and enable them to break the shackles of exclusion, is denied to them by privatization compounded by patriarchy. This gender inequality holds true not just for India. It is a reality everywhere. However, it is relatively more entrenched and persistent in India.

फोटो साभार- Flickr
Representational image. Source: Flickr

Under patriarchy, men end up becoming household heads and gain control and dominance over women. They were relegated to the roles of housewives and mothers which reinforced the belief that women were incapable of engaging in any labour outside homes and of thinking or intellectual activities.

These gender stereotypes led to girls being educated with only the marriage market in mind. From a very young age, they are preconditioned to thinking that for women, serving their husbands, child-bearing and child-rearing were only expected of them and nothing more. Although much of this has changed in many countries today, it persists in countries like India where a nexus of religion and patriarchy makes transformation a distant dream.

Privatization cashes in on this gender inequality in India and in turn, perpetuates it. The direct, indirect, and opportunity costs of education have seen a massive surge in this period. Girls who have been denied access to quality education cannot compete on equal terms with other children. They will be confined to their households. Moreover, the augmented financial constraints of the poor families under privatized education will impact their access to basic necessities like water, food and nutrition, disproportionately affecting the girls.

Without education, their likelihood of earning a sustainable livelihood and a proper social standing is nil. Instead, at a very young age, they might be married off, ending even the limited freedom they had. Early marriage and pregnancy become the final blow and they will be sentenced to a life of utter misery. Jobless, and with no alternatives, they cannot afford to leave their husbands.

No access to proper sex education and reproductive health education in schools and even higher educational institutes is another cause for worry. This also holds true for many public institutes in India. But, the question is if the government brings in a curriculum that is inclusive of this education, to what extent will the private players follow it? This is considering that they have complete autonomy.

Most importantly, there are severe shortcomings with respect to the content of education. This applies to both public and private schools and syllabi. Education as a social institution in a power-based society ends up promoting the ideologies of the ruling class and maintains the status quo. Thus, in a patriarchal society, education performs the function of conditioning the children to adapt to a way of social life where women are ascribed a subordinate position relative to men. The children end up forming the idea that any kind of inequality is natural and not necessarily socially created. It is only when they learn that these injustices and inequalities are socially created and this condition can be transformed through human agency, they will have the drive for leading change. However, education in the current world is enslaved to the system, negating its transformative and emancipative potential. Hence this whole issue must be tackled with a qualitative approach also.

Amartya Sen, the Indian Economist and Nobel Laureate, equates illiteracy of women with the insecurity they face. He argues that the more women are educated, the more they will be respected, independent and be empowered to make decisions. An educated woman will know her rights and worth. She will be politically engaged so as to lead a movement. She will have freedom of choice regarding marriage and her body.

Representational image.

Evidence suggests that educating women will work in favour of bringing down population growth. Also, their children will be healthier and more likely to survive compared to women who aren’t exposed to the same levels of education.

It must be noted that while clamouring for women’s education, many people tend to justify it based only on the ‘motherhood aspects’ like the ones mentioned above. That in-fact reinforces this identity as the exclusive one.

Education is the basic right of an individual! Education brings with it freedom! These are reasons enough to promote education for women.

Kerala, where I hail from, is a wonderful example of how priority is given to the public sector and state provisions have enhanced living conditions and improved the human development index. The importance it has given to universalistic principles in the provision of essential public services like education, health, food grains, water, electricity, can be said to be the reason these are available to everyone equally instead of being the privilege of a wealthy minority.

Even in the post-liberalization period, the endless pursuit of social policies in view of public welfare kept up their living standards. This explains its comparatively low gender gaps in education, better child-related index, low fertility levels, and more. The female literacy rate here is 92% and the male literacy rate is 96%. That being said, there is still a long way to go in improving the quality of higher education in Kerala.

It is the urgent need of the hour to restore the primacy of the public sector in fields like education. This restoration must be, at many levels a reinvention. It should be so reinvented as to allow the quality of public education to improve and the content to change in a transformative direction.

Research says India will see an increase of 20% in girl school dropouts in the post-pandemic scenario.

Hence, it is highly significant to us, as a democratic polity, to entitle these girls and all the disadvantaged children to education through quality public schools and social policies like reservation and affirmative action. The concerted effort of citizens, civic organisations, and the government in this direction is what that is going to make a difference.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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.

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