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How is India beating gender inequality through girls’ education

With gender equality being considered as a sine qua non for attainment of the development goals, the urgency attached to the question of girls’ education in India and across the world is gaining importance. Gender roles have substantially shifted but it can hardly be contested that opportunities for women are not still at par with that for men across the industry and men still dominate, if not monopolize, social discourse.

Women empowerment is inextricably linked to girls’ education and freedom of profession. As a result, there is increased emphasis on enhancement of access to quality education for girls from all progressive quarters.

There are different perspectives with regard to girls’ education and its efficacy in ensuring gender equality. It has been proposed, for instance, that just enrollment of girls in a school and retention is not sufficient. Ensuring formal education is necessary but not a sufficient condition for fundamental change in the gender equation in society. Process, content and curriculum are the areas which need to be reformed and purged of their inequitable structures to bring about sustainable changes.

The cause of girls’ education, in recent times, have certainly been benefitted by Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Act (RTE). Eight years of compulsory education was mandated under RTE. The enrollment of girls increased by 17.4 million between 2000 and 2014. The credit goes to the great policy push and other global enrollment initiatives taken in the 21st century. In addition to that, between 2013-2014, the enrollment of girls as a percentage of total enrollment in primary education has increased from 43.8 percent to 48.2 percent, while the enrollment of girls as a percentage of total enrollment in upper primary education increased from 40.9 to 48.6 percent (ASER 2015).

Aforementioned figures do indicate significant gains made in the arena of girl education but if we look at the educational outcomes, the trend still reflects a bias in favor of boys. Let’s take into account the literacy rate of females of 7 years and above which according to the 2011 Census is 65.5 %. The male literacy rate for the same age group is 82.1 %. There is a significant gap of 16.7 % although it is an improvement over a gap of 21.6 % recorded in 2001 Census. Secondly, the dropout rates also indicate a similar trend. The dropout in the case of girls mostly takes place during the transition from primary to secondary or from secondary to senior secondary stages of formal schooling. The reason for this is the lack of schools in proximity which becomes a handicap for girls in Indian social circumstances.

There is a curious statistic that needs to be cited as we are discussing the connection between education and empowerment. The participation rates of females in the labor force has been going down even though the enrollment rates are going up. According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Employment Trends Report, India’s labor force participation rate for women went down from 37 percent in 2004-05 to 29 percent in 2009-10 and further went down to 24 percent in 2009-2015. It is notable that out of 131 countries with available data, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labor force participation (ILO 2016).

Policy interventions for promotion of girls’ education and gender equality in India

There are some key policy decisions that have proven instrumental in furthering the cause of girls’ education in India. The policy documents that can be named in this regard range from the Constitution of India of 1950 to RTE 2009. India also attested its commitment to gender equality at international level by becoming a signatory to The Dakar Framework for Action, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Other international agreements that were in similar vein include United Nations Children’s Fund 2014; United Nations Girls Education Initiative 2010; United Nations 1966, 1981, 1989, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2016.

Despite these declarations and policy level affirmations, the ground realities have not correspondingly changed. The lack of implementation has always been the issue with the objective of attainment of gender equality through education in India.

Existing Laws and Schemes on National and State-Level to Promote Girls’ Educational Access

The efforts to achieve gender equality through girls’ education in India have advanced in a multipronged way. First in this league is Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or the Education for All campaign. It has given a thrust to the enhancement of access and retention of girls in school. To ensure the access and reduction in the dropout rates, efforts were made to ensure the availability of a school at every kilometer of an inhabited area, free textbook availability to all girls till class 8th, provision of girls-only schools at the upper primary level, separate toilets for girls, recruitment of 50 percent female teachers, and gender-sensitive textbooks.

National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, and the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya were two focused intervention for girls. These can be categorized as efforts made to extend reach to girls from extremely marginalized social groups, girls from lower castes, and families living below the poverty line (BPL).

Other schemes that have made a difference in the arena of girls’ education in India are list as under--

  • National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education (2008): it has the objective to reduce dropouts and promote the enrollment of the girl child belonging mainly to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.

  • Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY): The SSY account is meant to provide a small investment for the girl, which is to be used to facilitate payment of education and marriage expenses.

  • Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (2015): the scheme aims to improve the efficiency of welfare services for girls. In addition to that, it also addresses the issue of declining child sex ratio and aims to improve it by eradicating female feticide.

  • Bicycle Schemes: States such as Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have "bicycle schemes" where eligible female students are provided funds to purchase a bicycle.

There are some other national initiatives that are of note, these include -

  • The Scheme for Construction and Running of Girls’ Hostels for students of Secondary and Higher Secondary Schools(2008)

  • “Dhan Laxmi,” (2008) a conditional cash transfer scheme for the girl child. Specific sums of money are provided to the family of the girl when conditions are met, including the registration of birth, following the immunization schedule, school enrollment, and delaying marriage until the age of 18.

The efforts made over the years have definitely made a difference but there is no room for complacency. It cannot be said that the policy decisions were immaculate and just the implementation is lacking. It is to be understood that some of the assumptions that underlay the policy decisions are also not very imaginative. Gender equality through education is not a bad premise but there needs to be a plan to translate education policies into actionable agenda. Curriculum design, teacher training programs, and classroom practices are to be looked into.

True, achieving gender parity in access to education, which is evident in gender equity in school enrollment, is indispensable but the entire teaching culture needs to be revisited and understood from the standpoint of gender equality

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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