On achieving independence in 1947, it was expected and believed that India will become a nation wherein there will be no place for any kind of seclusion, exclusion and suppression in the name of caste, religion, sex or language. With the same objective, the founding fathers of our nation gave us a Constitution which guarantees the values of equality, equity and justice assuring an egalitarian society. Everyone has the right to have a life with dignity without any discrimination or prejudices. Keeping in mind the same goal of equality and social justice, the government of India passed the Right to Education (RTE) Act in 2009 and made it a fundamental right which guarantees free and compulsory elementary education for all children between the age group of 6 and 14 years irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion etc. But for half of India’s population, the women across the country, struggle to have equal access to education still continues. Educational disparity because of many constraints has primarily impacted girls and women.
Although the government, at times attempts to improve the education of women by taking initiatives such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mahila Samakhya Programme, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, Saakshar Bharat Mission for Female Literacy, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidayalyas etc. At the same time, the discriminatory practices and beliefs still prevalent in the society restrict women and girl children from enjoying the same comforts as boys do.
Despite the varied attempts of the government in the field of education, the statistics for women’s education leaves a lot to be worked on. According to the 2011 census data, national literacy rate stands at 74.04%. While male literacy was noted as 82.14%, female literacy lags behind at 65.46%. However, it is a known fact that the substantial progress has been achieved since India got independence when less than 8% of females were literate. But the gains have not been rapid enough to keep pace with the population growth.
Educating a woman does not merely mean educating an individual only but educating the family and the nation. Because of sex based discrimination rampant in the society, many parents prefer to send their male child to school but not the girl child. It is also very common that the parents choose to send their male child to schools having quality education. Even if the girls are enrolled, their dropout rate is very high because it is only a male child who is still considered as the breadwinner of the family.
Undernourishment and malnutrition of the girl child, gender stereotyping, poverty, Sexual abuse at early age, powerlessness, dysfunctional schools, perpetuation of gender-bias, child labour, domestic chores, child marriage etc are some of prominent factors which have become hurdles in women’s education and restrict women from getting emancipated and empowered. To overcome these barriers, certain measures need to be adopted by the government and non-governmental organizations. Schools should be opened within walking distance. The schools should have child care facilities/crèche. More women teachers should be appointed especially in rural areas. Curriculum should be made relevant to the lives of poor women who are engaged in battle for survival.
Women must be educated not only for the sake of education but for a healthy and happy life. An educated woman can be a better human being, successful mother and a responsible citizen. The nation can only be empowered with the contribution of both the sexes in private as well as public spheres equally. Educating women will definitely increase the living standard both at and outside home. An educated woman will be aware of her rights. She can fight against social evils such as domestic violence, dowry demand, low wages etc.
In the 21st century, India is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. Let us not regress into the dark ages where we let ridiculous norms dictate not to educate our daughters or sisters or restrict them to the domesticity. Therefore, the need of hour is to sensitize our society to treat their children equally irrespective of sex and give them equal rights and privileges.
Shah Alam,Assistant Professor,Women’s Studies and Research Centre, Banasthali University, Rajasthan