Gobar Times
Open Forum

School Girls

  Why not study?  

Primary school net enrolment/attendance ratio (2000–2006)

  Countries and territorie India
  Male (%) 84s
  Female (%) 85s
  Gender parity index* 1.01
  Progress towards the MDG target On track

* The gender parity index (GPI) is obtained by dividing the net enrolment/attendance rates of girls by that of boys.
* GPI of 0.96 to 1.04 means that the percentages of boys and girls in school are roughly equal.
* GPI of more than 1.04 means that the percentage of girls in school is higher than that of boys.
* GPI of less than 0.96 means that the percentage of boys in school is higher than that of girls.


Eighth of March is International Women’s Day. What better way to commemorate the day than focusing on girls’ education? We all know the importance of education in the life of a girl child. It does not only ensure a more healthy and prosperous future for herself, but for everyone around her. And there is a good news – as per the sixth Progress for Children Report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India is ‘on track’ in eliminating gender disparity in primary education, as per the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to ‘Promote gender equality and empower women’. This means that more girls are getting enrolled in schools.

But, what about the millions of girls that are still out of school?
South and West Asia have the greatest number of unschooled girls – more than 22 million. South Asia, which includes India, has the largest gender gaps at the primary level. For instance, boys here are more likely to be in primary school than girls. The primary school net enrolment/attendance ratio of boys and girls of secondary school age during 2000–2006 was 17 and 25. Girls are also more likely to be out of school than boys. During 2000-2006, 20 per cent boys of secondary school age were out of school as compared to 33 per cent girls. What are the reasons behind this gap?

  Why Dropout?  

There are several obstacles that stand between girls and their prospects for education. Such as,

  • Poverty: It is one of the biggest barriers to girls’ education in many parts of the world. According to UNICEF, gender disparities are greatest in rural areas and among poor households. When families struggle to find the money for schooling, girls are more likely to miss out than boys, often to help earn money or look after younger siblings.
  • Distance and timing: When schools are located at a distance, parents fear the safety of the child or find the time spent in commuting unnecessarily long. The school hours also decide if girls are spared time from their daily chores.
  • School facilities: When school facilities are unacceptable for girls. For instance, when they lack separate toilets for boys and girls, or there is no proper provision for drinking water. These affect the health of the students and hamper the quality of education.
  • School environment: Girls are also deprived of education when the school environment is hostile to them. For instance, if they fear violence or intimidation in the classroom by male teachers and pupils.
  • Cultural norms: In some parts of the world, social traditions and deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs may inhibit girls’ access to education. It is often considered unacceptable for a girl to express her opinions, make decisions for herself, go out in public unaccompanied, or participate in activities with boys.
  • Marriage: Most girls are married off at a very early age, and thus, taken out of schools. Political instability, regional conflict, and geography are few other reasons. But, a reason that is often overlooked is changes in the natural environment.

     The Environment factor  

Women and girls are the main managers of household resources. In rural areas, they are responsible for arranging for water, fuel for cooking and heating and fodder for domestic animals. They work on fields, grow vegetables, fruit and grain for consumption and for sale. They form more than half (51 per cent) of the world’s agricultural work force. Girls help their mothers (and at times fathers) in all these chores. They are generally considered as an additional hand in the fields. They also help their mothers in taking care of the siblings, and tending to elderly members of the household.

Now, given the variety of women’s daily interactions with the environment, they are the most keenly affected by its degradation. For instance…

  • Deforestation or contamination inc - reases the time women must spend seeking fuelwood or safe, clean water, and also increases the risk of water-borne diseases.
  • Soil erosion, water shortage and crop failures reduce harvest yields.
  • Toxic chemicals and pesticides in air, water and soil can cause a variety of health risks.
  • In urban areas, pollution can be extreme, and sanitation and waste treatments can be poor or non-existent. These present new threats to health of women who have the highest levels of exposure.

This means, degraded environment makes women spend more time and effort to find fuel, water or produce food. The amount of time and energy they spend on household duties dramatically increases as resources deplete. But, their other responsibilities, for meeting household needs and ensuring family health, do not diminish. So, girl children are often taken out of school to assist their mothers. Also, as income falls due to degradation of resources, education becomes an extra burden on the family. Most people anyway consider a girl’s education an unnecessary responsibility. So, it serves as just another excuse for taking them out of school.

 Good managers, naturally  
Women, most often, do not have a say in anything related to the environment. But, they are immensely affected by factors like deforestation, water scarcity, soil degradation, exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals, and enviro n mental policy changes, which impact their workloads, nutrition, health, and so on. Moreover, agricultural ext - ension services are heavily biased towards men. Education and outreach efforts in support of sustainable farming and land management methods often pass them by. So, they become the most-affected and yet, completely powerless.

Although statistics show that formal education is not necessary to be a better environment manger, it is a mandate in the formal decision making process. For instance, if a woman wants to stand for election, she must have certain educational qualification. This is in spite of the fact that it has been proved time and again that untrained communities are better environment managers than their schooled counterparts.

So, education gives them not only the strength to voice their concerns but also, have a say in the environmental policies of the country, which directly affects their lives and livelihoods.

  Girls' education: A snapshot  

  • Worldwide, 103 million children of primary school age are not in school – 58 million are girls.
  • Two-thirds of illiterate adults are women.
  • The children of uneducated mothers are more than twice as likely to die or be malnourished than children of mothers who have secondary or higher education.
  • In a typical developing country with a population of 20 million and an under-5 mortality rate of 150 deaths per 1,000 children, giving girls one addi - tional year of schooling would save as many as 60,000 children’s lives.
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School Girls