In accordance with the 86th Constitution Amendment Act of 2002, access to free and compulsory education is a right and should be imparted to all children from the ages of 6 to 14 years. This had been done to ensure that children are equipped with basic elementary education and could read and write. Despite this, India has a literacy rate of 74.04% only. Out of which men have a literacy rate of 82.14% and women only 65.46%. These statistics show the staggering disparities in the educational opportunities provided to women. Let’s further dwell on India’s gender inequality issue in the education sector.
Female Illiteracy and its Causes:
Most of the approximately 60 lakh children who are not pursuing their schooling are girls. In line with a study conducted by the Indian arm of Young Lives, only 26% of girls completed high school, compared to 50% of boys. India still has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. And having such low literacy levels not only has a negative impact on women but also on their families and hampers the country’s economic development.
The following reasons can be attributed to low female literacy rates in India-
Poor Environment- In general, the infrastructure of Indian schools is not encouraging and up to the mark. Schools lack basic amenities like drinking water, lack of sanitation, and no separate toilet for girls. This becomes a huge issue when girls reach puberty and have to manage menstruation. This has led to 23% of girls dropping out of school upon reaching puberty. And those who continue, miss as many as 50 school days every year due to menstruation.
Dowry System- The dowry system of India objectifies and dehumanizes women by treating them as property. This system also puts a lot of financial burden on the bride’s family. Such evil social acts neglect the girl child and discriminate against her in many ways including impairing her access to education. In some extreme cases, the dowry system has led to women being subjected to emotional and mental abuse, sometimes even leading to death.
Preference to Sons- A lot of parents prefers spending money on educating boys because the sons will be the one who will eventually look after their aging parents and provide for them. On the other hand, parents look at educating girls as a complete waste of money because the daughter will ultimately get married off and live with her husband’s family.
Poverty- Poverty happens to be one of the biggest reasons attributed to low literacy rates in India. Sex slavery and prostitution are direct outcomes of poverty. In a poor family, the girl child is malnourished, harassed, and denied opportunities. If it weren’t for poverty, then the girl child would have been able to pursue her dreams and wouldn’t be subject to sexual and domestic abuse. Several studies indicate that illiterate women have high fertility levels, low earning potential, and little autonomy in the household.
Gender Equality for Rapid Development
It is quite evident that India has a long history of gender inequality. But equipping women with education can play a vital role in the elimination of gender inequality. And by doing so, education will enable women to stand on their legs and make their own decisions. They can earn higher incomes and build better futures for their families and themselves. Educated women are less likely to marry young and are more likely to lead productive and healthy lives. All of this will cumulatively lead to India’s development.