“Prosper through education and strengthen through the organization”, the words of the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru are gaining prominence in the contemporary world. His notion is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals that emphasize education for all, especially girls and women education. The need for gender mainstreaming, achieving gender equality, and the active participation of women in achieving sustainable development, peace, and security across the globe is no more disputed. The relationship between gender equality and global challenges such as disarmament, climate change, etc. are now apparent. But the idea of gender equality cannot be achieved unless women are vested with the decision making power for which they need to be empowered through education. This also throws light on the fact that the education of women and girls is no more regarded as a mere part of economic development, but it is a key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Hurdles to girls and women education are deeply rooted in the patriarchal mindset and these barriers exist at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. The son-preferential attitude of the parents causes discrimination in providing education. As they are under the influence of a myth that a girl child’s responsibility is solely to look after the household chores, education isn’t a necessity for her. However, a male child deserves education as he is the future bread-winner of the family.
This is backed by another patriarchal notion that treats women as commodities of marriage. Even if a girl child manages to cross the hurdle set at the primary education level, another barrier rises before her as she enters the secondary level of education. Driven by the patriarchal mindset, on attaining puberty, girls are restrained from going to school as they have turned to a woman and are ready to be married off.
Here woman faces the risk of child marriage. In addition to it, lack of sanitary napkins during periods and separate girls’ toilet prevents her from attending the school. Over time, she herself will restrain from continuing education. When it comes to tertiary education level, the hurdles are early marriage and child-bearing which arrests her continuing education forever. The lack of financial resources to pursue further education adds to the problem.
Having said the barriers at different levels of education, let us now throw light on a non-apparent, yet, a potential hurdle to woman empowerment and gender equality. The hurdle rises, when a woman who has undergone tertiary education is restrained from pursuing a career and her world is limited in the four walls of the household.
It means only one in ten girls completes primary education, one in hundred girls completes secondary education, one in thousand women completes tertiary education and only one in ten thousand women are actually having the decision-making power and contributes to the economy and the society. It is to be noted that even after receiving tertiary education, these barriers are not exhausted and continue during every phase of a woman’s life especially at the workplace in the form of sexual harassment at the workplace, gender pay gap, etc.
The discrimination faced by women in education and at the workplace has its origin in the patriarchal mindset that insubordinate women. Empowerment of women begins at home, and the notion of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” should be practiced and propagated. To guarantee secondary education for girls, schools should be equipped with separate toilets for women and sanitary napkins should be made available free of cost. Also, providing mandatory formal sex education at school would teach children about self-acceptance and creates a sense of responsibility towards oneself and others.
To promote tertiary education of women, governments should provide grants, scholarships and banks should provide education loans at low-interest rates. Simultaneously, more employment opportunities should be created for women, both in the public and private sectors. In addition to it, Governments should take measures to promote skill development programs for women.
Policy reforms like increasing the women’s legal age at marriage from 18 to 21 would prevent instances of early marriage and pregnancy to a great extent. This would also ensure that early marriage does not deprive her right to tertiary education. Above all, women who are educated must come to mainstream society and take up social, economic, and political responsibility.