Girl education contributes to a healthier, wealthier, more stable, and more equitable society. However, not all girls receive access to quality education. In the world, 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are still not enrolled in school, of whom 75% are adolescents. The lack of infrastructure at schools, child marriages, and poverty are just some of the barriers keeping girls away from attending school and achieving their dreams. Disruptions to education caused by pandemics have further exacerbated learning inequalities among girls and young women.
Study shows that educating girls reduces poverty, prevents child marriages, improves maternal health and mortality, and reduces violence.
Additionally, each additional year girls spend in school can boost their earning potential by up to 20% as adults.
It is time to close the gender gap in education and give both genders an equal chance to succeed in education. However, before that, we need to understand what barriers stop girls from rural areas from accessing quality education.
Education as a necessity or a cost?
Poverty is an important factor that determines a girl’s access to education, according to the World Bank. Many parents are not able to pay school fees in private schools, and even in schools where fees seem non-existent, there is still a price to pay for uniforms, transportation, and resources like notebooks and pens.
Sometimes, parents perceive their daughters’ education as unwise, believing that girls will eventually marry and move to their husband’s house, and the amount invested in their education will go to waste. Especially in rural areas, many girls are engaged in labor work from an early age, and sending them to school cuts the costs of their labor work.
Violence and security
Many parents across different regions of the country avoid sending their girl child to school out of fear of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence can take many forms, such as physical and sexual abuse, discrimination, and bullying.
Parents are less likely to let their daughters travel to school if they have to travel long distances across unsafe areas. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas where there is less access to safe public transportation, and parents fear that their daughters will experience abuse on the way to school.
Household chores and cultural norms
Household duties, caring for family members, early marriage, and childbirth are all factors that contribute to girls missing out on education. In Indian cultures where these expectations are the norm, girls’ education is lower on a family’s list of priorities.
Forced domestic work can lead to low self-esteem in girls and a lack of interest in education. Worldwide, girls spend 40% more time performing unpaid household chores like cooking, cleaning, and collecting water and firewood than boys.
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Poor infrastructure and menstrual hygiene
Inadequate infrastructure and negative experiences discourage girls from attending school. The lack of functional toilets, separate toilets for girls and boys, washing areas, and access to sanitary products makes it difficult for girls to attend school due to hygiene and health concerns. Menstrual taboos in society also prevent girls from attending school during their menstruation period. Overcrowded classrooms lower the quality of the learning experience, which reduces girls’ interest in education.
If we want to create a better world, we need to invest in girls’ education and work on enabling more accessibility to education for girls.
In order to provide equal opportunities and quality education to all genders, schools have a responsibility to provide appropriate infrastructure with functional toilets, washing areas, and sanitary products. Opportunities in school to develop talents outside of academics like sports and other skills, and participation in competitions to encourage girls to attend school.
Awareness is key to bringing more girls into the flow of education. Schools can take the initiative and spread awareness among parents and society, and support them by suggesting solutions to girls’ education problems.
The community can contribute to promoting girls’ education by breaking taboos and stereotypes that are deterring girls from going to school. They can acknowledge and award girls and their families who have completed their education, started careers, and are earning.
Family and peers
Supportive peers and family can create a positive school-going experience. Successful peers can motivate other girls to pursue education and guide them to overcome barriers. It is the parents’ responsibility to recognize the importance of girls’ education and provide basic resources like books, pens, and uniforms to the girl child.
Educating girls is crucial for moving towards a better world. It is time for multiple stakeholders, including girls, families, teachers, communities, and boys, to come together to overcome all barriers to girls’ education. Building confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and decision-making qualities among girls, providing gender training for teachers, and strengthening schools’ capacity to be responsive to girls’ needs are some ways that can make a difference in girls’ education status in rural India.