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Why Parents In Jammu And Kashmir Are Taking Their Daughters Out Of Schools

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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.

Education is a fundamental right, and massive efforts have been invested by policymakers over the years, to ensure that people in India have access to quality education. Overcoming a long list of challenges, India’s literacy rate has increased to 77.7% in 2018 from 52% in 1991.

Apart from the national literacy rate, a huge improvement can be seen in the female literacy rate over the last three decades – as compared to just 39% in 1991, 70.3% of females are now literate.

Education has played quite a critical role in empowering girls and women of our country, who, today, are leading in different fields of science, engineering, education, arts, sports, entertainment, journalism and politics.

As we acknowledge the progress, it is, however, equally important to understand the gaps that still make education inaccessible to a large number of girls belonging to low-income groups in rural and remote areas. We need to think about 313 million illiterate people of which 59% are women.

Net enrolment ratio for girl children dips from 88.7% at primary to 51.93% at secondary and to a dismal 32.6% at higher secondary levels. Representational image.

This is the year 2020 and talking about gender-based discrimination hasn’t yet become a thing of the past. The dropout rate for girls after class 8th reflects the bias they have to face – first by their families and then by society.

As per a report published in The Financial Express, the dropout rate of girls increases drastically after primary education, up to which the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act is applicable. Net enrolment ratio for girl children dips from 88.7% at primary to 51.93% at secondary and to a dismal 32.6% at higher secondary levels.

Why Are Girls Dropping Out?

Roughly one in every five girls enrolled drop out after class 8. As per several reports, the predominant reason for girls dropping out is family constraints. After a certain age, marriage and other issues like school distance and poverty also come into play. Parents give priority to the contribution of girls to household chores over their education. They feel it is important to prepare girls for the ‘other house’ where they will be spending life after marriage.

In Jammu and Kashmir, similar social biases and economic constraints have severely impacted girls’ education especially in the rural and remote regions of this newly announced Union Territory.

As per a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO), the UT’s female literacy rate is 68% much lower than the male literacy rate of 85.70%. The rural-urban divide in the UT is reflected by the numbers as just 66% of females in rural J&K are literate against 75.70% females in urban areas.

In a situation where young girls were already facing challenges to claim their right to education, the advent of a global pandemic has further complicated the scenario. In J&K’s border district of Poonch, the pandemic has put a question mark on the return of girls to school once the restrictions are removed.

In Narol village, which is 20 kilometres from Mendhar block in Poonch district, name of Asifa Begum (name changed), a Class 9th student, has been withdrawn from the school by her parents.

“As a daily wage labourer, my source of income is meagre and sustaining four children was already difficult for me. During the lockdown, we could hardly make our ends meet. I had no option but to withdraw my daughter’s name from school as she has achieved basic education enough for her to get married,” shared Zamood Ahmed, Asifa’s father.

There are several girl students like Asifa who have dropped out of schools during and after the lockdown. With classes being conducted online, a large section of children belonging to BPL families have been left behind. Girls, with no access to smartphones in conventional families, are the worst affected. Few, who managed to arrange for a basic smartphone, find it difficult to buy data packs due to lack of money.

The remoteness of these rural regions makes the children more vulnerable as it cuts them from benefitting from several government initiatives. According to Rashid Ahmed, Principal at higher secondary school in Chhatral village, “My school has a maximum strength of poor and needy students for which different kind of funds are available especially for girls. These funds, however, were already not sufficient to meet the expenses and now the pandemic has made the situation worse. Also, there are many parents who do not understand the procedure and find it difficult to provide relevant documents.”

The UT administration while taking note of the abysmal female literacy rate especially in rural areas, has recently announced setting up of 176 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs), residential schools, for catering to educational needs of 15,000 girl students of disadvantaged groups of society at the elementary level.

Such steps are welcome as having strong infrastructure is one of the basic needs to provide quality education to girls, but what is needed here is the awareness and sensitization of the society and families towards girl’s education. And, also to understand that poverty plays an important role in girls’ education.

All girls in rural areas should be offered education free of cost to ensure their retention in higher classes. To move forward after the pandemic, one must address the challenges of the past.

The New Education Policy should aim at resolving the challenges faced by students in these rural and remote locations. Only then, we as a country will be able to achieve 100% literacy rate for all genders.

This article has been written by rural writer Mohammad Safeer Irdam from Mendhar, Poonch for Charkha Features. 

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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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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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