In India 130 million girls fall under the age group of 6-17 years. According to the Education Statistics released by MHRD, in 2016, the number of girls enrolled in classes 1 to 12, is approximately 120 million. The gap can be estimated at anywhere near 8 to 10 million.
The Drop-out rate of girls shoots up after primary education, up to which the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act applies. Net enrolment ratio for girl children dips from 88.7% at primary to 51.93% at secondary and to a dismal 32.6% at higher secondary levels. Roughly one in every five girls enrolled drops out after class 8. Menstruation and child marriage are the 2 primary reasons why girls don’t complete their education.
To understand gender inequality, how it relates to the patriarchal nature of our society, and it’s consequences, we spoke to Anusha Bhardwaj, Executive Director of Voice4Girls.
Voice4Girls, is a nonprofit organisation based in Hyderabad that empowers adolescent girls to understand their physical changes and arms them with the knowledge and know-how to have a safe lifestyle and a promising career.
“I grew up in a patriarchal family. Except for my parents, there was always a resistance in the family on why Anusha has to study, why Anusha has to do these things. I have grown in so much patriarchy that for me, it was all about how we should address these nuances in a systematic way.
I have been working in the sector of children and youth with a focus on girls since 2002. Health and hygiene and violence, affects girls in the early stages of life. It affects their development and journey further. Education is an generational effect. Today, in many villages where we work, the families don’t think twice before sending their girls child to school.” – Anusha Bhardwaj, Exec. Director, Voice4Girls
Menstruation and Child Marriage
20% of adolescent girls drop out of school owing to menstruation.
Adolescent girls in marginalised sections of society are seldom introduced to the physical changes they are going through. Puberty is deemed as a matter of concern, her freedom gets restricted, and marriage is considered as the solution to this, cutting off girls from their academics.
Child marriage, although illegal, is still rampant in our society. According to studies, there are close to 90 lakh child brides in India. This eventually results in early pregnancy, abortion and then death due to unsafe birthing and healthcare conditions.
The Beginning of Voice4Girls
Voice4Girls started in Hyderabad when girls would not return to school. Reasons would be due to attaining their puberty, getting their first period. So, the initial thought was how to convince the girls and their families to send the girls to school after summer holidays.
“Girls in their teens and puberty are in a very vulnerable condition where they develop attraction towards the worldly pleasures, they are pressurised by their family to get married or stay home and look after their siblings etc.
At Voice4Girls we help her understand why it is important to stay in school, what is happening to her body, understand how to manage her periods and keep herself safe during that time. It is also about recognising and reporting violence and what her rights are according to law. We help her plan her future and what is the right age to get married and what does the law say about it.”
Voice4Girls through their Voice Camps and activity based training, educate the girls in life skills, computer education and in spoken English to help her get more know-how and bring about development for herself and her family. Voice, also impart a peer leadership training through which she can grow into a peer leader and be a support system for her peers.
Biggest Hurdle to Development in India – The Mindset
India is a patriarchal society. The mindset of people even in metros is not yet liberal enough and in rural areas it is far worse. Having faced retaliation in terms of mindset, Voice4Girls works around it, giving the girls a safe environment to grow and nurture.
“Talking about gender, talking about these personal issues, there is still a stigma around it. We give the girls a buffet of experiences. The families don’t agree to everything we say, but they let us do our work because they also want their girls to be safe, to know how to dispose off their sanitary napkins. It is sort of like meeting their needs too while we address our goals.”
Both government and social impact organisations are working hand in hand to improve the situation of gender inequality. Girls are known to bring about a 360 degree development around them if empowered with education and the right tools. But mindset is the barrier. After years of concerted efforts, the question arises – has there been a change in mindset? As Anusha says,
“Change is slow but change is possible.”