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Dear PM, Please Don’t Let This Pandemic Take Girls Centuries Behind

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The Hon’ble Prime Minister
Delhi, India

This pandemic has been both a disruptor and medium of oscillation in lives. This is especially the case when it comes to lifestyle changes and education. The pandemic has caused school closures countrywide and has impacted about a significant chunk of the student community in India. Many of these young learners may never step into schools again, the resulting impact of which will be denotative to the growth cycle. Girls, especially in a rural setup, are at a higher risk of such a dropout.

Representational image.

For generations, we have heard or witnessed these particulate barriers to girls education in India. Covid has only augmented the situation by stretching the classes to online from physical. The meaningfulness of these classes is a continual cause of discussions countrywide. These are virtually impossible to be attended by most of the rural students due to the unavailability of resources such as phones, the internet, and more.

Many NGOs/ helping individuals did come forward to accelerate this process of imparting education at such needy times to those from underprivileged backgrounds by donating Tablets, PCs smartphones and the like. We cannot hold back,  but will also express gratitude for the educators who have in such difficult times also served as role models and held online classes from their homes and schools. I even know one who gave classes from her car (since her house only comprised of one-bedroom and her young one won’t stop screaming and running around).

The Pandemic Effect

Our focus today has shifted to making education more accessible rather than making it more inclusive.

This is to request your attention to such plans that will help both these young girls and the country as a whole by improving access and support for completing secondary education. We need more inclusion of the very need to educate in the so very elaborate “New Education Policy”. The policy is good only when it is implemented. Households that are able to afford a smartphone/ smart device through means, the preference of use of the same are generally for the boys. The girls’ school and classes are neglected in comparison to the needs of the male sibling.

The current pandemic situation is pushing people into scenarios where feeding mouths are inversely related to feeding hands. When food is scarce, schools are closed and mid-day meal isn’t being served, sanitary napkins aren’t being given free anymore, the incentive to keep sending young girls to school is horizontally laid down.

This has adversely affected the menstrual health of young girls. The girls face discrimination and are expected to adjust because of their gender. This has led to disastrous effects on the girls being forced to marry, against their will. They are made to do all the household work and consequently are prepared for marriage.

Career Counselling At Early Stages

The biggest challenge in the Indian education sector will be covering up for the time lost due to the pandemic. The online education we know of is completely ineffective. This will be a new paradox: why go to school at all if education can be handled online only? The challenge to teach them for their time lost is one of the larger goals to be addressed along with the need for emphasising for education to be continued for girls and boys both.

The same can be erased with an initiative like “happy classrooms”. We should focus on early provisions through teaching career-based courses, where online modules coupled with a few in-person classes are conducted, to help them learn the fundamental skills needed to pursue their desired career option.

These would definitely change the mindset of students who categorise the education imparted online as “not so required” “online class hi to hai“. Such parallel teaching provisions will also inculcate in the youth the need to be able to financially self-dependent at early stages.

Representational image.

Community Teachings

It is said that if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. Socio-cultural factors have affected the education of women in the country for generations.

Daughters being asked to help at home with cleaning, cooking, taking care of siblings and family farms, early marriages, gender bias, the opportunity cost of sending her to study, poverty all these factors have clubbed and hindered the education and empowerment of women in our country.

It’s time we understood that it is never too late to learn. The mothers who have faced these normals in their childhood as the standard of life in Indian society should now be made to attend classes or programmes to push their thinking beyond these horizons and not classify their daughters lives with these boundaries.

Once a mother is hell-bent on making it work for her children, no force can stop that wave. The new wave of change can come if we are able to educate the caregivers regarding the Good in Education being the larger good.

Health Checkups

We can also early see how the health system had come to a standstill during the pandemic due to overburdening. I believe just like regular health and hygiene is being taught at school, we could also give everyday bases seminars over the radio or TV  with small health care directives to the youth to enable them to take care of their families. In these difficult times, it would do abundance  of good.

The youth can be taught to spot early signs of infection and symptoms. They can be given small teachings on how to take vitals of their patients and family members to notice any warning signs early. They should also be informed about proper usage of masks, which two masks to be used together and more. All these news flashes and image cards are well circulated on WhatsApp and social media sites, but the reliability is very skimpy in the world of fake news.

The briefs that the government provide to the students are taken as learnings and are followed as being taught.

Representative image.

Timely Directives By Concerned Authorities

To address this serious issue of education in this pandemic, we cannot turn a blind eye to the economic loss it has brought to the country and countrymen altogether.

The current academic session has been stretched to June  2021, parents are bound to pay fees for more than 12 months in a session, the syllabus has been reconfigured. Students are in dilemma over their careers. While session ends are a source of going out and getting a career to support the family for some, for others, it is the time to pave their way into the career of life. With this educational dilemma of boards, UPSC Exams, UGC, other competitive exams, the students are fighting the pandemic with grief in family and friends leading to depleting mental health.

It’s time for us to step up for our student force. We require a comprehensive set-up to ensure well being and good mental health of students, to avoid early marriages or pushes to do the household chores for the young girls. Women are pivotal to both our family and country.

They not only look after our homes but also make sure that a healthy environment prevails in the family. Women have been battling patriarchy for a long time to be able to stand up and ask for what they want and need.

My wholehearted request to you, sir, is please don’t let this pandemic take girls centuries behind. Please provide ways to help avoid this girl child dropout and forced early marriages. Give us some light in this world of grief.

Thanking you,

Namita Bhura, New Delhi

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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.

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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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