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How The Migrant, Unemployment, And Other Crises Are Impacting Girls’ Rights

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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.

Imagine the life of a girl child in a remote village in India during COVID-19? A little girl bound to home fighting a double pandemic; one that is restricting her from stepping out and the other of inequality in education within her own home.

UNESCO report on inclusion in education shows 40% of the poorest countries did not provide specific support to disadvantaged learners during the pandemic. Fewer than 10% of countries have laws that help ensure full inclusion in education, according to UNESCO’s report- all means all. The report identifies an exacerbation of exclusion during the pandemic and estimates that about 40% of low and lower-middle-income countries have not been able to support disadvantaged learners during temporary school shutdown.

Representational image

Key factors that cause the exclusion of learners in education systems worldwide include background, identity, and ability (i.e. gender, age, location, poverty, disability, ethnicity et al.).

The pandemic is not just a public health emergency. It has also disrupted the social systems and the fragile immunity of our society against inequalities. Amongst the most affected groups during the pandemic; women and girls top the list. As the cases of domestic violence against women have risen; young girls’ education is also getting derailed. Some are getting lost in household chores; others at vulnerable age are facing the pressure of early marriage due to the gap year.

It is estimated that nearly 10 million secondary school girls in India could drop out of school due to the pandemic, putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, and violence.

A Decline In The Focus On Girl Child Education

Not applying a gender lens while designing the school operations during the pandemic is risking to push female education back by decades.

India’s efforts on girl child education were finally starting to pay off. “In India, access to education for girls has improved tremendously over the last seven decades. India’s female literacy rate has risen from 9 percent during Independence to about 65 percent in 2011. Primary-level female gross enrolment ratio (GER) rose from 61 percent in 1970 to 115 percent in 2015, almost seventeen percentage points higher than male GER. At the secondary level, female GER rose from 14 percent in 1970 to 75 percent in 2015, narrowly exceeding male GER,” says a Forbes Report published on July 13, 2020

However, the report also points out the lack of focus on Girl Child Education during the pandemic can lead to undoing the progress India has made in the field in the past 70 years. It signals at disruptions in funding, inadequate school nutrition, access to schools, and increasing unemployment rates being the catalysts towards declining focus.

The Patriarchal Society: Lack Of Mobility For Girls

The education of millions of girls in the aspirational districts of India is at risk. Their enrolment and dropout rates have experienced a great setback amidst COVID-19. School is a space that provides more accessibility to resources and mobility to girls, as compared to their homes.

Nearly 40% of adolescent girls in India were already out of school and forced to stay at home. Due to the closure of schools, every child is at home but the girl child has lost the freedom that she had in school.

Women and girls take on the majority of unpaid domestic and childcare tasks, which increases when schools and workplaces close and people are confined to their homes. At home, she first nurtures the family; her education doesn’t become a priority.

The health risks for girls who can no longer attend school are not limited to the virus itself. School, for a girl child, is not just a place of education, it is a place of safety as well. Home confinement means there is a heightened risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Data shows an alarming rise in domestic violence cases; more than ever seen in the past ten years.

The Digital Disparity: Lack Of Access To Technology At Home

At home, a girl is burdened with additional household chores, with lesser access to technology than the boys in the family. Around 50% of India does not have access to the internet. Even if they have access, connectivity does not ensure activity.

Representational image.

Connectivity doesn’t always equalize opportunity. Digital divides can mirror broader societal divides – between rich and poor, cities and rural areas, between those with or without an education – and between women and men,” says UNICEF report titled ‘The State of World Children, 2017′. According to a report in 2016, only 29% of the internet users were female. This digital disparity needs to be addressed in order to work towards building a ‘new normal’ for girl child education.

The Pressure Of Getting Married Seeding From Migrant Crisis And Unemployment

Most families in the aspirational districts of India have lost their means of livelihood during the pandemic. “It is estimated that about 20 percent of girls are not going to come back to school after lockdown. Most of the girls from families of migrant workers are in the vulnerable age where they are likely to get married.” Professor Amita Rampal, Educationist, Delhi University.

Not just early marriage, the early pregnancy of adolescent girls will become a permanent barrier for her education.

Need For A Gender-Responsive Education Strategy

The lockdown has emphasised the need to re-evaluate our education system to make it more inclusive. There is an urgent need for a gender-responsive education strategy that support girls’ pathway from education to employment through learning opportunities while keeping them safe both in and out of school. The gender digital divide needs to be overcome in order to ensure the digital learning of the girl child.

There is a need for producing a gender-sensitive data related to the crisis. Women’s opinions need to be considered while making school operations plan during and post COVID. At the community level, women’s networks should be used to organise the response to the crisis. These networks should be used to encourage girls to continue learning during and after crisis. Men and women should be encouraged to share childcare and household work. We need to create safe spaces for the girl child in every community.

The changemakers and pioneers in Education need to come up with localised campaigns and models to ensure that no girl child is left behind and education is built back equal post the pandemic.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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