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India, What Do You Want Your 2021 Report Card To Say About Female Literacy?

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.

From 1941 to 1981, the gap in literacy rates between men and women in India grew from 17.6% to 26.62%, after which it, fortunately, began to decrease and was at 16.68% as of 2011. The next decennial census report for our country occurs next year. While we can hope that the gap has nearly closed by now, the gendered implications of the pandemic are many. Apart from the rise in domestic violence during the lockdown as reported by the National Commission of Women (NCW), the lockdown has also caused a shift of responsibilities for girls towards unpaid household and caretaking work.

As a consequence of the strained economic conditions on families, it is also predicted that many girls would be forced to drop out of school, fall prey to violence, and forced into marriage. The pandemic has made it a great possibility that the gap between literacy rates will increase once again. India, do you want your performance to drop to a 1950’s standard?

Representational image.

‘Internet For All’

Some of the major challenges that we will be facing in terms of education for girls during and after the lockdown include technology, now that digitization is on the rise. First and foremost, state and central education boards could direct all schools to communicate with students and submit a report to calculate how many households require assistance, and what kind of assistance they need.

Any student whose attendance drops for online classes should be checked in personally by the school’s administration. For instance, a lot of families might not be able to afford the internet, which would adversely affect education for all, regardless of gender, as schools are going online. Telecommunication companies could offer subsidies on data packages and provide internet free of cost to families that cannot afford them.

Of course, this would mean that private companies like Jio and Airtel must participate, but we do have companies like BSNL that are owned by the Government of India itself which can easily begin the scheme and make ‘Internet for All’ a possibility. 

Innovate And Use Resources

Another challenge is the digital divide itself. Since resources and funds would not be necessary for the building and maintenance of schools and for printing textbooks this year, those funds could probably be redirected towards providing tablets or laptops to households that require them. Even if a family owns a single device, if the classes are live and not recorded, it is likely to create problems where the son’s education is given more preference, and the daughter would have to miss out on classes.

To prevent this, recorded lectures and flexible schedules for assignment submissions might come handy, and this would also make it easier for teachers. Practically, however, most of this may not be possible, and even if it were, execution is very difficult. There have been innumerable projects to tackle this, such as ERNET’s ‘Vidya Vahini’ in 2001 that aimed to connect 60,000 senior secondary schools at an estimated cost of INR 6,500 Crores, but nearly two decades later, we are still fighting the same fight.

In 2014, when Sierra Leone, a low-income West African country, was hit by Ebola, low-tech devices like solar-powered radios were used to broadcast classes to all students. Once the epidemic ended, hygiene kits were distributed and infrared thermometers were used on a daily basis to check for high temperatures among students. India can definitely learn a thing or two from such cases and formulate a suitable solution.

Another important aspect of online classes is ensuring that educators themselves have access to all the necessary resources and tools to continue imparting education in this new format. Free workshops and training should be provided to help faculty, as well as students, navigate and optimize digital schooling. While each of these solutions would have some challenges of their own in terms of implementation and financial crunches, a solution is essential, no matter how difficult it may prove to be.

If even the smallest percentage of citizens that tune into the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat is enlightened and change routines in their house to accommodate for all, it is still a win.

The Government Can Do A Lot Too

Even post-COVID, steps will have to be taken to ensure that India will never face the same problems again in the event of another pandemic or calamity. The importance of eliminating the digital divide has been amplified by the challenges faced during the lockdown, and once the pandemic ends, every possible action must be taken to accommodate every citizen. 

Combating the gender roles imposed within homes, from burdening girls with household chores to other worse forms of abuse, which consequently impacts their education is a different challenge altogether. Even if the battling coronavirus is the primary concern of the government, raising awareness and addressing these issues publicly is extremely important.

If even the smallest percentage of citizens that tune into the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat is enlightened and change routines in their house to accommodate for all, it is still a win. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padao campaign should not stop because of a pandemic, it should be optimized to suit the current needs and be implemented with an even higher drive. Government policies that recognize and award families that encourage education of girls and committees that survey and draw solutions for the same are all necessary and need to be stipulated and executed immediately.

The Right to Education was made a Fundamental Right in the Constitution in 2009. It is imperative that the government do everything in its power to ensure that education is accessible to all children, regardless of gender or socioeconomic status. As the youth of India, we advocate for the same and expect immediate action to be taken, pandemic or not.

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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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