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Social Work
 
NGO STORY : EDUCATING WOMEN: NEED OF THE HOUR
Required: Unequal Access to Education for Women
The Struggle of Women to break The Shackles of Patriarchy and Create an Individual Identity has been well Documented. But we Still have a Long Way to go in Creating a Level playing Field for our Women.
Issue Date - 21/07/2011
 
Addressing the International Women’s Day forum on March 8 this year, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General said, “An investment in the education of women and girls is an investment in our own security, prosperity and future of the planet. We know that when women and girls receive more education, they are able to contribute greatly to their families, villages and nations as successful workers, healthy mothers, and full participants in the political life of their countries.”

From breaking the cycle of poverty to enhanced employment opportunities and better health, the benefits of educating girls and women are well-documented. For example, according to a report recently released by United Nations Development Programme, the GDP of countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia could be raised significantly if women in those countries were employed at the level of many developed countries. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development report, Women’s Education in Developing Countries, documents, “The evidence is overwhelming that education improves health and productivity and that the poorest people gain the most. When schools open their doors wider to girls and women, as well as to boys and men, the benefits multiply. Indeed, failing to invest adequately in educating women can reduce the potential benefits of educating men. This failure exacts a high cost – in lost opportunities to raise productivity, to increase income, and to improve the quality of life.”

The most pivotal long-term solution to breaking the vicious cycle of social and economic exploitation of women is to empower them through education. On paper, women in India enjoy equal status to that of men. Striking a positive note towards women empowerment, the government of India had declared the year 2001 as “Women’s Empowerment Year” in order to promote the vision “where women are equal partners to men”. From the concept of ‘welfare’ in the seventies to ‘development’ in the eighties and then to ‘empowerment’ in the nineties, our laws, development policies, plans and programmes have aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres. In recent years, the empowerment of women has been recognised as the central issue in determining the status of women. The National Commission for Women was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Constitution of India have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision making at the local levels.

 
But the reality still smacks of a wide gender disparity in the very basic literacy level. According to Census 2011, the effective literacy rate (age 7 and above) are 82.14% for men and 65.46%. And with states like Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand, where women literacy is at 52%, 53% and 56% respectively, contributing to the cause, we have bridged the male-female gap in literacy rate from 24.84% in 1991 to only 16.68% in 2011.

If we look into the initiatives taken by the Government of India so far, the efforts towards attaining Universal Elementary Education have resulted in substantial increase in physical infrastructure, teachers and enrollment. The Education Guarantee Scheme under Sarba Shikshya Abhiyan (MHRD’s most ambitious project) aiming to provide vocational and non-formal education to out-of-school children have been quite successful. But schemes specific to women like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs), the Mahila Samakhya Programme, and others for adult literacy have not been able to achieve much success for various reasons. As far as the Education Guarantee Scheme under SSA is concerned, the quality and the attendance pattern is doubtful. The Social and Rural Research Institute says that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh have the maximum number of out of school students. While the target was to have no out of school student in 2005, apparently, were 13.6 million of them in 2007-08.

Launched in July 2004, the KGBV was aimed at setting up residential schools at the upper primary region – primarily for girls from SC, ST and OBC families as well as minority communities. The government of India had sanctioned 1,180 KGBVs as of 2006 but has not been able to implement the plans so far. The Mahila Samakhya scheme that was started to educate adult women had a few key success instances which were quite credible, to say the least. But the momentum has not carried on with the same verve with which it was launched.

One of the drawbacks of the KGBV scheme is that the research and documentation support to district implementation units is not that strong. Staff planning, recruitment, training, capability development and retention, assessment and discontinuation are areas that have still not been reengineered to be efficient processes. But there’s something more critical. As the situation is, funds from the Government of India for the implementation of projects are not available within the stipulated time frame. One example in this can be the fact that in Rajasthan, 4,000 school workers employed under the KGBV scheme were not paid any salary for four months this year.

A Harvard School of Public Health 2008 report documenting intimate partner violence (IPV) in India confirms, “Odds of recent IPV among women without any education were 5.61 times those of college-educated women, and odds among wives of uneducated men were 1.84 times those of wives of college-educated men” Undoubtedly, lack of basic education is also the obvious reason behind social malaises like child marriage, dowry, domestic violence in the form of physical and mental torture, female foeticide and many other forms of social and economic abuses. But there’s more. International Agency for Research on Cancer, France, found in a research in South India that “men and women with no education had higher overall cancer incidence rates compared to the educated population.”

In other words, educating women ensures that even men become more productive and that the national economy gets a huge impetus it may have lacked. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women says, “Equal access to education for women and girls will be ensured.” What is required currently is an unequal status for women and girls in education – where they get a higher focus than men, as for ages, they have suffered the discrimination that was never due.

Anindita Chakraborty           

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