According to the 2011 census, the male literacy rate is 75.3%, and that for females is 53.7%. Access to quality education is key in ensuring that women have access to work opportunities, affordable healthcare and legal assistance.
The main reason behind the low enrollment rate as well as literacy of women is poverty, patriarchy, social norms and lack of sanitation. In many schools, there aren’t separate toilet facilities for girls who menstruate. Therefore, after menstruation starts, families usually don’t allow them to attend school.
Separate toilet facilities are important once children reach puberty. Without privacy and the facilities, they need to manage menstruation and many girls choose to leave schooling altogether.
Education is important for women empowerment as illiterate women have high levels of fertility and mortality, poor nutritional status, low earning potential, and little autonomy within the household.
A woman’s lack of education also has a negative impact on the health and well-being of her children. For instance, a recent survey in India found out that infant mortality is inversely related to a mother’s educational level.
The main problem faced by girls in rural areas is that they are enrolled in school at the beginning of the year but aren’t able to make it till the end. They are either forced to marry or told that they aren’t meant for education rather for helping their mothers with a household.
These girls, who are forced to marry at the age of 10 or 13, are illiterate mothers who want to read and write but can’t after marriage. They end up having many children due to the unawareness of what family planning is, become a victim of domestic violence as they don’t know what their rights are or help their husbands on farms.
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Many parents think educating their sons is an asset to the family, whereas educating their daughter is a waste of money because she eventually will get married and will live with her husband. They won’t get any monetary benefit from her directly.
Another belief of rural parents is if the daughter studies too much, she would have higher demand and would want an educated better half which would mean greater expenses in her marriage. Very often, if the parent is willing to educate their daughter, the accessibility to a school becomes a problem and sending the girl away to a town alone is considered unsafe.
Many times if the school is located in the village, its infrastructure, the student-teacher ratio, no toilets for girls, inaccessibility to textbooks are the issues that come up.
There are certain schemes by the government, like the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” scheme introduced by our Prime Minister. However, there is no relevance to such schemes if the community does not cooperate. There has to be change in the mind of people to bring such social change.
The progress of such schemes depends on the awareness spread and the implementation of the plan, which requires the active participation of both the citizens and the government. India dreams of becoming a superpower by 2020, but with the literacy rate of an underdeveloped country, it isn’t possible.