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The story of girls in India

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‘Mom, what is menstrual hygiene? Is it something that only I stand unaware of?’ 

‘No, my child; this is something which even I know nothing of. We are not allowed to talk about such things.’

Just about two decades later, the change is evident in the questions asked by the girls in our country. 

‘Mom, I can’t believe women still stand unaware of menstrual sanitation and proper hygiene measures. The workshop that we conducted in the rural vicinities was an eye-opener.’

‘It is our responsibility to enlighten the ones that stand unaccustomed to the prerequisites of a decent female life’. 

Girls in our country have had a journey from being called a ‘rebel’ for demanding equal number of schools in the neighbourhood for females to being called ‘torchbearer of women empowerment’ for demanding equal pay for equal work. It has been a journey from inviting opprobrium for leaving homes to work to try to stay ahead of everyone in the competitions of a subtle daily life running from the same starting line.

Still, even today when a daughter with her parents, passes through a billboard with a journalist on it screaming of ‘voicing the truth by uncovering the reality of events’, she wonders to herself, ‘would she be able to do the same one day ?’. Well, the answer today is, by and large yes, if given the opportunity. 

The paper would focus upon the stark changes that we witness today in terms of girls’ education as we did two decades ago in our country. What has changed? Some would argue that nothing in the peripheries but a lot in the metropolitan world. It has some element of truth in it but the fact also stands undeniable that education is a matter of discussion in the country today. There is still a long way to go but statistics have proven the essential achievements secured in the arena. 

Language is the most powerful mode of representation. Cora Kaplan is able to express the essence of this statement in her words where she says;

Our individual speech does not…. free us in any simple way from the ideological constraints of our culture since it is through forms that articulate those constraints that we speak in the first place [Kaplan 56] 

Education starts from the way females speak about education. The fearless attitude today is surely a big reason to celebrate, for, speech is a plan turned to action. The more people engage in a discussion, the more it is likely to influence the majority thought process and hence, it turns to reality as action follows ideologies. 

Before turning to the thesis about the change in education for girls today, it is of utmost importance to steer through the social conditions that denied girls’ right to their liberation through education previously and why the situation seems challenged today. 

‘Woman’ – without her ‘they’ say there can be no ‘man’. 

In much of the written literature, we find much evidence of oppression of women and dominance of men. In European, Middle Eastern and African cultures, women did not have equal political and social rights as men and were often under the control of their fathers and husbands in almost all societies. In Greece too women did not have basic rights which is often held up as the originator of democracy. Political theorists like Aristotle and Socrates considered women to be incapable of practical thought and not true citizens. Even in India, women have been witnessing the history of subjugation. During the ancient period, although women were seen as contributing equally as men were hunted and women gathered, gradually this notion faded. 

Women were often ousted from social life by denying them property rights, social and political rights and also education rights. Women although were considered goddesses, their situation remained unimproved. Instruments of suppression were the practice of Sati and child marriage which prevailed for a very long time. In Mahabharata which is considered to be the great epic and is held proudly, subjugation of women is evident. Patriarchy prevailed at that time too and women were oppressed which is evident by the example of Draupadi who was shared as a wife by five men and was also lost as a bet by one of her husbands. Women at that point could not claim share of her father’s property and could not succeed as a royal heir. Even in the Vedic times, women were not considered as equal and were not even allowed to hear or study the Vedas by the dominant class of men in the society. This was continued even in the Mughal period where women were oppressed by men of the household. Although women slowly started acquiring important status and gaining rights all over the world, true freedom from oppression was never attained. Even today in some parts of the country, women’s reproductive functions and sexual capabilities are seen as disgusting to the extent that menstruating women were till recently not allowed to even visit some temples which adorned female goddesses.

Some religions and cultures also preach subjugation of women where women are taught to dress, speak and behave in a certain way which is expected to be appropriate. Some countries support patriarchy through certain rules like in some countries the punishment of rape is that the rapist’s wife is given over to the rape victim’s husband or father to rape if he wishes, as a revenge. In some extreme cases, rape victim is married off to the rapist. There have been many writings on these things by feminists which are ignored. Marxists believe that oppression of women began with the rise of a class society, about 6000 years ago and oppression of women is a creation of culture. Male dominance throughout ages has resulted in erosion of female identity and status as individuals. 

Another form of patriarchy called Neo patriarchy coined by Hisham Sharabi in 1988 evolved to suppress women at the household level. It involves control and exercise of power guided by the elder women in the family but supervised by men. In this system, women are responsible for perpetuation of patriarchy by subjugating younger women in the family, especially the brides. ‘The second sex’ by Simone Beauvoir [1949] is an historical account of women’s disadvantaged position in a society. ‘One is not born, but rather becomes a woman’. It is one of the earliest feminist works and is used by many contemporary feminists to draw on to women’s oppressed position. ‘…her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly’ ‘Still I rise’ by Maya Angelou [1978] also draws upon how women had been victims of patriarchy.

‘ You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise. 

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.’

As women had no right to material property, the only way to attain a respectful status in society was through entering into a matrimonial alliance with a man of higher status. Social status was assigned to women based on the reputation of their fathers and husbands. 

But, today, Gone are the days when literature was restricted to men and inspiration must be drawn from the women in Shobha De’s novels who revive their lost fortunes, look glamorous, act different, break the norms, are sexually liberated and free thinkers. As Simone De Beauvoir says ‘All oppression creates a state of war. And this is no exception’[ Beauvoir 156 ]. 

History provides evidence of how women have always been victims of male dominance and have faced gross repercussions by stepping out of the boundaries set for them. 

In the examples of Draupadi being stripped of her dignity, Sita’s character being questioned after being kidnapped, Padmavati’s decision to burn herself, women in India have always been struggling and surviving in a dark world.

Thousands of women have been strangled to death by endless restrictions being imposed on them. From being enchained to the constraints of domestic life to the practises like Sati, Child marriage, the entire journey of a female from a girl to a woman have been predetermined. 

It’s high time that women seriously take up the task of bringing about a change by educating their friends, husbands, sons about how women ought to be treated. 

It’s time to celebrate ‘Womanness’ and permanently bury terms like ‘Mansplaining’ with the conventional picture of a woman. Women of the 21st century are capable enough to question but those questions need to be answered so that new questions arise questioning every unfair phenomenon. Efforts like providing permanent commission to women in the Short Service Commission by the Supreme Court instil a spirit into each woman of India to cross the barriers and emerge out of complexities with flying colours. The dream captured in the statement made by the UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet – ‘21st Century will be the century of girls and women’, must be realised by taking small steps which would eventually lead to the celebration of the utopian India dreamt by each woman. 

The simple fact that a lot of changes have been introduced in the girls’ education, is that I am writing this paper freely about what we have been facing through the ages. I am educated enough to critically analyse the facts and then make a statement. 

Education has largely been believed in the last decades as the source of ‘trouble’ at homes wherein the ‘obedient’ females start questioning the norms that put them at a place not desirable. Even if allowed, it was believed to make the women more ‘acceptable’ to be married to educated men. In the decades after independence, education has been all about rebellion to have people accept it as a right for women. There are numerous reasons why the realm of education has undergone massive changes through the times. There have been plenty of challenges to the same that seem to find solutions or at least interest of change-makers of the society. This has been a booster for female education. 

The main hindrance has been the dominant ideology of the Indians whose society has always had a son preference. Daughters have always been viewed as an ‘outsider who lives at the biological parents’ house until she attains a certain age as desirable to the parents to marry her off at her rightful destined house’. The thought has witnessed a change primarily because of technology.  With people making use of the internet largely, it has been possible to connect to women throughout the world and to stay in tune to the developments of the female world outside the state boundaries.

Free and independent media has been a force to be reckoned with as more females join the industry to take up their own issues. With a boom in literature, in the absence of censorship or restrictions, feminist authors have increasingly been the votary of girls’ education.  With liberalisation and globalisation setting its foot in India, female Education increasingly came to be included within Sustainable development goals for equitable and inclusive development as a necessity to attain agendas set internationally. Plan International in a report stated that every dollar spent on girls’ education has the potential to generate a general return of $2.80 which could also boost the economies of developing nations by 10% in the next ten years. The investment on girls’ in India is thought to be a futile exercise.

Patriarchy’s deep seated impact on the Indian society has been exemplified with the preference of child marriage over education as education has been believed as a domain reserved for men. Even if the government has launched programmes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, education for girls is still wrought with many challenges. The main issue concerning the inability of girls to reach schools is the distance of schools from homes. A lot of rural areas and tribal areas face paucity of schools within ranges of their homes.

The schools lack proper hygienic measures to encourage girls with no toilet facilities or proper measures to help girls during menstruation. Girls often are forced to withdraw their admission from schools due to their parents’ decisions of getting them married before completion of their studies. 

There is a dire need of encouraging girls’ education as when one girl is sent to study, a family tree gets educated. It helps to break the cycle of poverty and unorthodoxy in an Indian family. Educated girls take sane decisions when it comes to family planning and the future of families and national growth increases dramatically. Girls’ education must be encouraged through awareness programs to change the mindset of parents unwilling to help their daughters with education. Scholarships and proper infrastructure in schools must be focussed upon to augment girls’ education. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

“For full development of our human resources, the improvement of homes 

and  for  moulding  the  character  of  children  during  the  most  impressionable  years  of  their 

infancy, the education of girls is of greater importance than that of boys”.

The agenda of girls’ education has been in attention now in full swing given the active role of civil society who has been very vocal about issues of female foeticide, child marriage, early pregnancies and women empowerment. The situation of girls’ education has improved impressively which is quite evident given the statistics related to girl education. With an increase in standards of school infrastructure in the ‘New India’ which caters to girls’ needs, female students constitute 48.6% of the total enrolment in the last decade in higher educational institutes as per AISHE. 

‘We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world.’- 

Drew Fuast

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