Women & Girl’s Education: Issues in India
It is now well established that gender equality in education and enhancing the access of girls to basic education is influenced by three inter-locking sets of issues -systemic, content and process of education and economy, society and culture. This issue need not be reiterated now as this approach has now become an integral part of mainstream analysis.
There is almost unanimous acceptance of the fact that gender, as a category, needs to be seen within the larger social, regional and location context. India is a land of rich diversity and it is also a country.of sharp disparities. The interplay of socio-economic inequalities and gender relations creates a complex web that either promotes or impedes girls’ ability to go through schooling! While economic disparities and social inequalities are certainly important, a number of researchers argue that cultural beliefs and practices and regional characteristics play an important role.
Big Differences of India
In case of India, it is important to understand the intermeshing of poverty, social inequalities and gender relations. The three intersect in different ways in different regions of the country -with one reinforcing the other in some and offsetting one in others. Understanding and unravelling this, is the biggest challenge today. In this context, there is a need to acknowledge the following:
- Rural-urban differences in enrollment, attendance and completion are greater than male- female differences;
- Backward-forward areas / regional differences are greater than gender and social group differences;
- Disparities between very poor households (below poverty line) and the top quartile is much higher than gender, social and regional differences;
- Differences between social groups -especially between tribal communities, Muslims and specific sub-groups among the SC on the one hand and the forward castes / Christians and other religions is
- Inter-community differences are often as severe as intra-community For ex- ample, the literacy status of some tribes is better than others and some Dalit groups better than others.
What Can We Do in India?
- Meaningful Access
Meaningful access is providing not just the physical access (in terms of number of schools, improved infrastructure etc.) to participate in the formal education system, but more impor- tantly, an equitable opportunity for all children to engage with a quality education system. Meaningful access needs to happen at every single step of the education delivery system, right from bringing the child to the school or for that matter, taking the school to a child. Right from ensuring that schools are available for all children from any social group to ensuring that once the child reaches the school, it is a safe haven of learning and growth to achieve his or her potential instead of a few skills thrown in a staccato manner. Meaningful access includes access to teachers, who will provide differentiated support catering to varied learning styles and who will pay special attention to those that need extra nudge to keep pace. And most importantly, meaningful access to provide a safe, gendered space with room to find and express one’s own identity shaped by membership in any social group without the fear of mockery or discrimination.
- Safe and Non-Discriminatory Environment
It is said that a school is a microcosm of the society in which we live. More often than not, inter-personal and inter-group dynamics prevalent in the community is also reflected in the school. Teachers, if they are not adequately sensitized and trained, may just transfer behaviour pattern and prejudices to the school. Educational administrators and politicians give this as an excuse for persisting discrimination in schools. This is where we have a lot to learn from countries that have successfully combated this tendency and have insisted that schools and other publicly funded institutions adhere to constitutionally mandated rights and obligations. Taking the right to equality and the right against discrimination enshrined in the Constitution of India, teachers and all educational administrators are duty bound to ensure a non- discriminatory environment in school. Teachers and headmasters do not have the freedom to discriminate on the basis of case, religion, gender, ability or economic status.
Taking the Constitution of India as the guiding spirit, teachers, administrators and community leaders need to be told that any violation of the right to equality and the right against discrimination will invite strict penal action. A non-negotiable code of behaviour needs to be communicated to all those who are involved in school education. This needs to be done in writing and prominently displayed in all schools and educational institutions. Simultaneously, children, especially boys, need to be involved in activities that enable them to understand and appreciate diversity, respect differences and formulate school level norms of behaviour towards other children, and towards girls. Involving children in creating an egalitarian atmosphere could bring moral pressure on teachers, administrators and local leaders not to differentiate or discriminate.
May be a lot more can be said and a longer list of issues that frame women and girls participation in education can be presented. In the last fifty years, several commissions and commit- tees have brought out long laundry lists of issues and concerns and many strategies have also been listed. Reflecting on why these recommendations and strategies have remained unimplemented, I realized that, we need to first and foremost agree on a few non-negotiable maxims or principles. If they are adhered to, then the chances of other inputs falling into place is far higher. It is with this in mind that I have highlighted only three: meaningful access to education, non-discrimination and fore grounding gender in the construction of knowledge. If we are able to push for these three, then maybe we can start moving towards greater gender equality and social justice.