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3 Reasons Why Girls In India Shy Away From STEM Courses

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.

While the overall gender gap in college enrollments seemed to improve to 48.6%, the ground reality shows that many girls are out of college, and the hindrances associated are only making it difficult for them to graduate and join the labour force.

The hurdles are even more in courses related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). So what keeps girls from choosing STEM courses that are often seen as lucrative in the long run?

Representational image.

Education As A Qualification For Marriage

With the rising demand for educated daughters-in-law, families are encouraging girls to pursue education as a qualification for their marriage. Women are encouraged to take humanities since they are considered ‘soft’ and ideal for women. Moreover, the belief that STEM courses are not conducive to marriage is keeping women away from them. Since gender roles don’t see a girl as the breadwinner, higher education is merely a stamp for the matrimonial ads.

Furthermore, the choice of a girl’s higher education is often in the hands of the in-laws and her husband but rarely in her interests. “Though I got married when I was 17, my husband and parents agreed to send me to college. I am 20 years old now and finished my 12th grade. I was unable to take admission in 2020 due to the lockdown, and recently I gave birth to a baby. Right now, due to the uncertainty, I am not sure if I will ever be able to do it. I still want to go to college and become a teacher after completing my studies,” says Aarti Kumari.

The Financial Burden Of STEM

While Monika Kumari wanted to attend colleges in Kolkata for a management degree, she couldn’t receive any scholarship last year and hence didn’t enrol herself in the college. She is trying again this year and is hoping to enrol herself this year. However, covering her living expenses in Kolkata seems to be another hurdle, according to her.

Though girls want to continue education in STEM, those from low-income families are unable to fulfil the financial demands of private colleges. These colleges rarely offer any scholarships. The limited number of government colleges is hard to access, and parents are often concerned about girls’ safety during their commute to the college. Moreover, parents don’t want to send their girls to colleges outside their hometown because of safety issues and added living expenses.

Gender Stereotypes Associated With STEM

Even when girls make it to college, the under-representation of women is visible in the AISHE 2019 report, which shows that while males share 71.1%, females share only 28.9% in the streams of Engineering and Technology. The lack of female role models in the communities is adding to it. This was evident through my conversation with Jyothi Singh, who is currently studying at Ranchi Women’s college.

I am currently studying B.Com since I am interested in accounting. I never met or heard of any girl in my village who studied engineering or became a doctor. I heard that engineering is very hard to study and the colleges are so expensive that my parents won’t be able to afford them. There is only one cousin sister in my family who went to college before me, and she did BEd and became a teacher,” she narrated.

The stereotypes associated with gender often influence girls’ career decisions, where most of them choose teaching and nursing. It is particularly tough for first-time college-goers as they are often apprehensive about taking unpopular courses in the communities.

The challenges are numerous. It’s time we take a stand on making sure girls transition to college and aren’t hesitant to enrol in STEM courses. When girls finish college and join the labour force, they are not just earning their financial independence. Still, they are contributing to the economic upliftment of their families and the empowerment of the communities they are from.

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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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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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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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