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Opinion: Why NEP 2020 Is Detrimental To Women In Higher Education

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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.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was released by the government to bring ‘revolutionary’ reforms in education. The coverage around this document has been abysmal in itself, with most mainstream media choosing to parrot the buzzwords used by the BJP regime and its leaders to praise the NEP.

However, many students, professors, and professionals look at the NEP as a neo-liberal document hell-bent on making education exclusive and private. The NEP has tried to ape the private higher education model of the west without considering the intersectionalities that exist in India.

One of the groups to be hit hardest if the NEP does prove the critics correct will be women, especially women from marginalized communities. Coming to the document itself, In Part II (Higher Education) the entire section is mainly focused on the internationalization and privatization of Indian education.

Within these marginalized sections, it will be the women who end up suffering even more in the patriarchal construct that is prevalent in India, with many families perhaps refusing to fund 4 years of higher education. Representational image.

Perhaps, the only time the issue of gender is directly addressed in this document is at 14.4.1 ( C ) which vaguely urges to “enhance gender balance in admissions to HEIs (Higher Education Institutes).” This clause seems vague with no indication of any measures expressed to fulfil it and simply seems like something the government has added without any thought towards its implementation.

The main reason why the NEP is harmful to women in/aspiring for higher education is not just because of the lack of ideas to bring women into higher education, but also the core ideas and steps in the document. One such measure which was repeatedly highlighted to me by Professor Abha Dev Habib and student activists I spoke to when I was researching another article on the NEP (read it here) was the 4-year degree and ‘lifelong-learning’.

The idea of ‘lifelong-learning’ in higher education means that during a 4-year degree, one can drop out after any year and get some form of certification for it. Ie. If I decide to drop out before completing my fourth year, I will be given a certification, diploma, or some other documentation. When you combine this with the rising costs of education in India, which will only be exacerbated by the NEP, that only certain sections of society will be able to get a full degree.

This idea was expanded to me by Professor Abha Dev Habib, a member of Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA), and a professor at Miranda House. She points out that it will be members of marginalized sections such as SCs, ST, OBCs, religious minorities, etc., who won’t be allowed or have the ability to complete higher education and will have to settle for a diploma or certificate.

Within these marginalized sections, it will be the women who end up suffering even more in the patriarchal construct that is prevalent in India, with many families perhaps refusing to fund 4 years of higher education.

The government states that lifelong learning and dropping out before completing a degree is a matter of choice depending on the individual and their goals. This claim couldn’t be any further from the truth as India is a country where women, especially from marginalized sections of society have little to no agency in these matters.

Collective, which is a student activist group with students from universities all over the country prepared a report on the language in the NEP called ‘A Dictionary of National Education Policy 2020.’ In this document the reality of lifelong learning is perfectly summarized in the lines “Who will exit after one year and who will stay for four is less a matter of choice and more a matter of existing structures of discrimination and exploitation.”

One must also look at where NEP 2020 is sourced from to understand what it is laying the groundwork for in the future. The NEP is an outright step by the government to move away from the work of the Kothari Commission, which stressed increasing and developing public education institutes and moved towards the Ambani-Birla report on reforms in education. This document from the year 2000 stresses privatizing higher education and carries much of the same principles as the NEP 2020.

Reading this document is important in understanding what the future will be for women who manage to get into higher education. One such idea in this document is the banning of any political activity on campus. Taking the example of an organization like Pinjra Tod, it and similar feminist movements will not be allowed to exist if these policies of the Birla-Ambani report come to fruition. 

Women in higher education will not be able to raise their voice against patriarchal rules of their universities like Pinjra Tod has done, limiting a valuable form of self-expression universities offered, in many cases for the first time to women. 

The NEP 2020 is not a revolutionary document as many suggest it to be, and it is definitely far from it when it comes to women in higher education. It is devoid of any steps to increase the enrolment of women in HEIs and the neo-liberal policies within it will only make higher education for women even more inaccessible.

Collective’s report on the NEP:


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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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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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