More often than not, in an urban poor community in India, boys are given inherent preference and privilege over girls. For instance, if a family in a rural setting has a son and a daughter, it is the son who is sent to a private school while the daughter is usually sent to the government school. The parents, when asked about this differentiation, are too embarrassed to accept the gender bias.
This pattern of gender privilege can be observed not just pan-India, but also in other developing countries. According to a UNESCO estimate, “around the world, 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age.” The ratio of girls dropping out of school is twice more likely in countries affected by conflict as compared to those living in non-affected countries. According to a report by the Sunday Express, “While more girls (7,48,866) than boys (6,18,075) appeared for the NEET in 2020, the attendance rate of female students was lower than that of male students for the first time after 2017.
Even the girls who are sent to school (govt or private) get assigned more household work and chores than their male counterparts. Rooted in years of patriarchy, this has led to a huge opportunity gap in women’s education. Women’s discourse in the realm of education is marred by an existing bias that gets further accentuated, be it low family income, living in underserved locations, having a disability or belonging to a minority ethnolinguistic group.
While we see these subtle biases in primary age, it becomes more explicit in the later stages of education. Many at times, women are not allowed to go to college outside the city or far away in the city and have to instead opt for an “open” or correspondence course. Young girls and women are also subjected to a lot of mental pressure when compared to the boy of their age, much of which stems from the social stigmas and gender discrimination. In the struggle between managing household work and studies, they seldom find themselves in an empowered position.
In tandem to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations member states have committed to a renewed framework for development. Achievement of gender equality and empowerment for all women (SDG 5) is central to the SDG agenda. “The WBG recognizes that in order to fully realize the benefits of educating girls and women, countries need to address the multiple sources of disadvantage that many girls and women face, including cultural biases and access to economic and social opportunities, as well as services, such as health care and education.” In the Indian ecosystem, relevant authorities and organisations need to incentivize parents to send their daughters to schools and universities by giving fee concessions or scholarships to female candidates. Getting them enrolled in a school or college is not the end solution, but it is the first step towards the broad mindset and attitude shift that is required to give girls an equal opportunity.
Another way is to appoint special counselors in schools and communities, who can help create a safe space for girls to come and share their challenges in and outside the school. These counselors can work with parents in generating awareness about gender equality. A good amount of stress should be given on cultivating emotional intelligence in children, since it potentially garners more success in life. For any child’s holistic development, emotional intelligence must be given priority, especially women.
Thirdly, special awareness drives should be organised by the local government to sensitize both the genders as well as their parents, allowing for equal opportunities in future for children of all genders. Gender sensitization campaigns should be mandatorily run by local governments and schools. The declining sex ratio in many of the Indian states depict the troublesome attitude of the society towards women.
As Michelle Obama said, “The measure of any society, nation or culture is how it treats its women”. If India wants to be a developed nation, it needs to treat its women equally.
The author is the founder of Saarthi Education.