Even after 74 years of independence, India has not achieved the goal of Universal Elementary Education. While states like Kerala have been relatively successful, other states have not fared too well in this area.
The female literacy rate in Bihar is the second-lowest in the country, according to the census of 2011. Numerically it is only slightly more than 50 percent, which is an abysmal statistic. The overall literacy rate of Bihar was 61.8 % in 2011, 73.4% for males and 51.5 % for females. Literacy levels and educational opportunities for women in India have improved in recent decades, but there is a vast difference between urban and rural women. India also successively disappoints in terms of its ranking on international education and empowerment measures for women. On the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index, India ranked 112 out of 134 countries in 2020.
Bihar has about 6,000 senior secondary schools. Despite various incentives implemented by the Bihar government, their education department found that 1,662 senior secondary schools across the state have reported high dropouts of girl students studying in Classes IX to XII. 
Nitin Kumar launched the ‘Mukhyamantri Kanya Utthan Yojana’ in Patna on August 3 2018 and expressed his government’s resolve for the empowerment of women. The Chief Minister also made several other announcements like increasing the amount under the ‘Bicycle Yojna’ from ₹2500 to ₹3000. The scheme, launched by the Nitish Kumar government in 2006, provides bicycles to girls among the many incentives to attend school. Mr. Kumar also announced a doubling of the stipulated amount for the purchase of sanitary napkins to ₹300 from the existing ₹150 under the ‘Kishori Swasthya Yojna.’
Despite the implementation of the above-listed schemes the structural, economic, and social mindset in Bihar curtails the true empowerment of girls, to achieve their potential.
Some of the fundamental obstacles girls in the state face include:
1)Poor School Environment-
The school environment for girls in rural Bihar is not particularly stimulating. There are still many schools with poor basic amenities such as drinking water, toilet facilities, improper infrastructure, an inadequate number of teachers, and a generally unsafe environment.
The major educational problem faced by girls, especially girls from rural areas, is that although they may be enrolled at the beginning of the year, they do not always remain in school. Girls are often taken out of school to share family responsibilities.
3) Lack of female teachers-
Another barrier to female education is the lack of female teachers. As India is a gender-segregated society, it is a very important factor contributing to the low literacy rate of women. It is one of the barriers to girls’ education. Girls are more likely to attend school and have higher academic achievements if they have female teachers to look up to as role models.
4) Child Marriage-
Early or child marriage in India, according to Indian law, is a marriage where either the woman is below age 18 or the man is below age 21. Most child marriage involves underage women, many of whom are in poor socio-economic conditions. Bihar has amongst the highest child marriage rates in India. There is a high correlation between female literacy and early female marriages. Most often, families with lower literacy rates get their children, especially girls married off early.
5) Caste Disparities-
Severe caste disparities also exist. Discrimination of lower castes has resulted in high dropout rates and low enrolment rates. The circumstances of a girl child situated at the intersection of the underprivileged sex, from a rural background, belonging to a Dalit or tribal family, or to a Muslim family, makes it very difficult for her to access education despite the initiatives taken by our government to make Universal Elementary Education possible for all.
6) Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has provided a framework to understand the reasons behind the exclusion of SC children so that it can be eradicated. Some important practices include derogatory remarks by teachers, asking SC students to do menial jobs, excluding the SC students from public functions, isolated seating arrangements, etc. The system perpetuates exclusionary practices by encouraging- Lack of full implementation of incentives/schemes, not acknowledging SC role models in curriculum or teachings, reinforcing the caste character in syllabi and textbooks, lack of sensitization of the teachers, and lack of SC teachers.
POLITICAL REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN:
With the implementation of gender quotas since India’s 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, the percentage of women in political activities at the local level has risen from 4-5% to about 35-40%. Reserving one-third of seats for women in the elected bodies of rural local governments has led to the more active participation of women in various capacities. For the first time, rural women began to participate in local governance to improve their status and acquire agency as well as a conclusive say in matters crucial to their livelihoods, which contributed to improving their overall well-being. According to a UNICEF report, women ‘Pradhans’ reduce the gender gap in schooling, increasing the immunization levels and sanitation levels in villages, based on data collected from surveys across some Indian states. While the role of women has improved significantly in local panchayats, it often still remains tokenistic in nature where they don’t enjoy roles of seniority.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in Bihar, women's voter turnout was nearly 59.92% against 55.26% male turnout. During the same elections, only 9% (56) women candidates contested in the elections, and out of 40 overall winners, only three were women. There are over three crore women voters in Bihar, who form 47% of the voting population, as per the election commission’s data for the 2019 polls.
Such a substantial gap between the large percentage of women voters and the meager representation of women legislators forces us to think about the various reasons for such poor women representation in Bihar. While one MP was 10th Pass, the other two were graduate and post-graduate respectively, at the time of analysis conducted by ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms.)
An interesting insight to be noted was that the three women MPs elected in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in Bihar are/were wives of Indian politicians. This raises the issue of dynasty politics and nepotism, deeply embedded in Indian politics.
While education doesn’t have a strict correlation with political representation in the country, it’s easier for educated women to make informed choices after attaining a certain level of literacy. Further women can engage in policy-making through various indirect and direct means whether it is through working as bureaucrats, working in NGOs, working in think tanks, or undertaking independent research. Educated women as members of their local panchayats will be in better positions to find solution-oriented answers to the problems and challenges which they face at the grass-root level. Hence the education of girls today should be a top priority. As the famous saying goes ‘You educate one girl, you educate the whole nation.’
- Diya Narag, a first-year law student at Jindal Global Law School and a volunteer at EdJustice People's Campaign.