Representative image. News 18
Newspaper headlines often screamed “Girls outperform boys”. Although student performance is not gender-based or biased, it is heartening to see girls engaged and outdoing themselves in healthy competition. This is the result of concerted efforts to uplift and advance girls. Now is the time to focus on the girl child in rural areas if we are to see a renaissance in our society.
The International Day of the Girl (IDG), which has been observed for over a decade now, is one such milestone. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared October 11 as a day to recognize the rights of girls, the unique challenges they face around the world, and how to address these issues. The UN has declared that girls have the right to a safe, educated and healthy life, not only during the critical formative years, but also as they grow into women. The organization also recognized that, if effectively supported through adolescence, girls have the potential to change the world as workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, heads of families and political leaders.
India has come a long way since independence to achieve healthy literacy figures. The country’s average literacy rate was 77.70 percent, with males literate at 84.70 percent and females literate at 70.30 percent, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) and the National Statistics Office: NSO (2021 and 2022). While there is still a long way to go to achieve gender parity and improve overall figures, efforts by the government and the education sector as a whole are slowly bearing fruit.
Make every school in India a paradise for girls
Recognizing the importance of gender parity in enrollment and education completion in creating an equitable nation, the government has set out the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020). The policy envisions an education for every child, with particular attention to girls and people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This could be a game-changer for India as it is a fact that the dropout rate for girls continues to be high after primary and the enrollment rate drops in secondary and upper secondary. One of the reasons given is the lack of toilets forcing girls to leave school at the start of their period.
To illustrate this, let’s discuss the role of school in a child’s life. School is a girls’ second home as it helps build their self-confidence and gives them the courage to forge an identity. Schools as an institution are the foundation of individuals, economies and nations. Therefore, every school in the country should have some basic facilities including clean and equipped classrooms, trained and caring teachers, healthy meals and hygienic toilets. The Gender Inclusion Fund (GIF), an integral part of the NEP 2020, should be able to respond to these issues, in particular that of safe and hygienic toilets.
Health and nutrition are critical areas that need to be addressed. While measures such as midday meal programs are in place, the government may budget part of the GIF exclusively to provide additional meals/supplements to girls to address the endemic problem of malnutrition among women. In addition, schools must be the place where children recognize and respect each other, regardless of gender. Gender awareness should be part of the school curriculum, as should sex education, menstrual health and hygiene.
Educate the little girl to exploit her incredible potential
Former PepsiCo CEO and one of the world’s most powerful women, Indra Nooyi, emphatically said, “I don’t believe there is an economy in the world that can succeed without harnessing the incredible potential of women in the future. I just don’t believe that’s possible. And how true this statement is!
Many countries and cultures still perceive boys as potential breadwinners. One way to change this perception is to provide girls with developmental opportunities themselves. In fact, the best way to harness the incredible potential of women is to ensure that they are equipped with the right skills through education so that they are ready to be inducted into the job market.
A gradual path is to introduce compulsory skills development and vocational training courses as part of the regular school curriculum so that girls, regardless of their economic background, are equally equipped to join the country’s labor force.
One area that every country needs to focus on is every girl’s right to legal literacy. This will go a long way in securing their future and empowering them to tap into their incredible potential.
Focus on inclusiveness and empowerment of girls
One of India’s definitive steps towards inclusiveness and empowerment was the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao wellness program. This program ensures that every girl is protected with inclusive benefits, including access to quality education and the right to inherit property from her family. Supplemented by programs such as Balika Samriddhi Yojana and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojanathese programs are attempts to, first, break down the stigma surrounding the birth of a girl, and then, give them the opportunity to become “contributing members” of society and the economy.
India is a key player in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both as a formulator and driver. Gender equality and the empowerment of women are integral to each of these goals. Promoting gender equality and ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is essential to accelerating sustainable development. Only by protecting the rights of girls and women can nations ensure the security and sustenance of future generations.
The author is Principal of Singhania Group of Schools and Principal of Smt. Sulochanadevi School Singhania, Thane. Opinions expressed are personal