By Jessica Bahr:
As Indian society develops and changes, cities and urban areas are becoming increasingly influenced by Western values and experiencing substantial social progression. The feminist movement has become increasingly popular, women are becoming more independent, more career-oriented and pursuing goals outside of marriage and family. Despite this, however, girls seeking education in rural areas often remain incredibly limited due to historical tradition and gender-based values.
While India has produced a female president, prime minister and business tycoons, these opportunities are heavily limited by the caste girls are born into and the area in which they grow up. Even as life in modern India continues to evolve, many Indian women and girls face significant challenges living and working in a society whose patriarchal values are so entrenched in culture that changing them seems virtually impossible. In rural India, the priorities of looking after the home and family are ingrained in them from childhood; and are enforced by family and society alike.
Shivani Singh is a full time volunteer for the Samarpan foundation, working to support children in poor areas and assist them in catching up with their studies. Ms Singh believes that many do not come to school simply because their parents to not see the importance.
“Girls do leave early, in a lot of different states. Parents think they have to be married and sent off to a different family, so they think ‘what’s the point of educating somebody who is going to leave them?’”
“But the mindset is changing. It’s changing every year. A lot of people are putting energy towards it, toward this change. The fact that we’re talking about it means it is changing and there is the possibility for this. It will take its time because it is very rooted. It’s the way women are seen here. So it’s difficult to change the whole cultural set, but it is coming.”
Despite these ongoing and imminent changes in the way women are perceived and valued in Indian culture, many limitations remain in everyday life. While attitudes toward girls’ education and women’s rights may be evolving, the implementation of true change is proving to be a lengthy process.
Amanda Day, Education and Resource Counsellor of the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, notes that as girls in government schools go through puberty sanitation becomes an increasingly prominent issue. For many of these girls, continuing to consistently attend school with a lack of adequate bathroom facilities becomes increasingly difficult and for some is simply not an option.
“We hear stories and anecdotes about girls who drop out before the age of 14 and that’s mostly due to sanitation issues. So they just drop out and stay and home and become probably what their mother has been and her mother before that,”
“But I think things are starting to change. I think women’s development particularly around girls staying in education longer is becoming a bit more of a priority.”
As both the education system and women’s rights continue to rise as a concern to many people and organisations in India, the government is working to implement policies and assist in girls around the country being able to continue their studies through to high school and tertiary level.
Jennifer Star, founder of education NGO Tara.ed, says that while India is ahead of many other countries in the South Asia region, the issue of gender is still prominent in schools.
“There’s still an issue there, especially the transition from primary to high school. There’s a big drop off of girls at the particular time.”
“India is trying really hard at a policy level to bring in these changes, and at a curriculum level to bring in these changes. So they’re putting women role models in textbooks, or stories about empowered women. But unfortunately there’s a problem with rolling those policies out so there’s quite a disjoint in policy and practice. But they’ve got a country of 1.2 billion.”
Titly Chatterjee, a 20-year-old student at Amity University, agrees that while feminism and women’s rights are incredibly popular in modern India and private education, those going through government schools in rural areas still face significant social and cultural challenges. For those with access to higher education, the concept of female empowerment are widely accepted, particularly among young adults. For those living in poor areas, however, progress is much slower.
“Most states, if you go to rural areas, they aren’t educated. Families have this mentality for girls, they don’t give good education to them because the motive of a girl is getting married to a guy. So that awareness is not there still in some places.”
“It would take a revolution to change Indian culture.”