Make the Puthris Stay! by Lakshmi Vijaykumar

The overall levels of education in the current younger generation of girls are showing an upward trend. However, enrolment of these young girls in higher education and above is declining. The Gender Gap Report 2017, World economic Forum report ascertains the same where it states India ranks at 108 in educational attainment for girls. According to the report, India experiences a massive decline in its overall Global Gender Gap Index ranking, largely attributable to a widening of its gender gaps in political empowerment as well as healthy life expectancy and basic literacy. In addition, data that is available reveals the scale of India’s gender gap in legislation, top management, professional and technical fields. This highlights the need for continuous efforts to achieve parity in economic opportunity and participation. On a positive note, the report states India succeeds in fully closing its primary and secondary education enrolment gender gaps for the second year running, and, for the first time has nearly closed its tertiary education gender gap. However, it continues to rank fourth-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world’s least-improved country over the past decade. With more than 50 years having passed since the inauguration of the nation’s first female prime minister in 1966, maintaining its global top 20 ranking on the Political Empowerment, it requires India to make progress on this dimension with a new generation of female political leadership.

The root of this problem is intertwined with a need to increase literacy levels and increasing gender parity at leadership roles across industry sectors and other levels where women participation is abysmal.

When we take a deeper look at the prevalent gender gap, the effect of this problem is exacerbated where girls drop out of education for reasons particularly at the economically poorer section of the society. This also highlights the core of the issue where companies are missing out on to a large talent pool that of the underprivileged girls whose lives are often marred by challenges such as female foeticide, infanticides, child marriage, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other such safety issues. In fact, that brings us to a bigger and pertinent question – why do girls leave school? There is not obviously a single good answer, nor is there any conclusive data available on why girls drop out of higher education especially from the economically weaker section of the society.

Broadly, we can say there are three main reasons – expectancy to participate in domestic chores, safety issues and infrastructure roadblocks.

Expectancy in domestic chores

In India, girls are conditioned to learn all the household related chores such as cooking, washing, cleaning, etc as they are told that’s where their futures lie. This problem is not only prevalent in rural areas, but is lucidly evident in urban families.  Young girls are involved in day to day chores including a younger sibling care and are often forced to drop out of schools to take care of younger siblings. Besides, families in rural set ups look at sending girl children for higher education as both monetary and a psychological waste. While boys are still looked up as source of income, while the earning potential of women is not even considered. Overall, participation of girls in family life becomes a hindrance to their higher schooling.

Health & Safety

For adolescent girls to pursue higher education safety is a major concern in India and this issue becomes a prevalent discourse surrounding the events that get reported almost every day. Many a times, girls don’t report cases of abuse to parents for the fear of a) dropping out of school and b) to shoulder the blame on themselves. Long commute, unsafe hostels, force young girls to drop out of school. This eventually encourages parents in the economically weaker sections of the society to put their young girls in marital bonds.

Infrastructure barriers

There is also significant need to upscale the infrastructure facilities for girls to continue their quest for knowledge in schools and colleges. Unsafe hostels, unhygienic conditions that often lead to health issues and lack of good female staff pose as major threats to young girls’ education in India.

As much as it is important to up the infrastructural facilities, and ensure safety measurements are taken, it is equally important to make all those young adolescent girls intentional about their future employment. Though the prevalent ethos and the legislation including the Right to Education in India guarantees that almost every Indian student will undergo schooling, the legislation does not have the ability to ensure a conducive environment for education actually exists. Nor does it have the people bandwidth to reach out to the number of government run schools across the country. The time is come for us to take cognizance of the situation and offer piece meal solutions but give hundred per cent attention on the long term scale and ensure that girls across India are able to freely, safely, boldly and consistently pursue higher education and in turn exhibit their intentionality for future employment.