In 2009, the Indian government passed the Right to Education Act in what became the state’s strongest support of educational rights and opportunity in years. This landmark policy, which made education both free and mandatory for students between the ages of 6 and 14, also eliminated blatant educational discrimation based on race, religion, sex and other personal factors. However, while discrimination is not legalized, there is a clear inequity in education that prevents women from reaching the same level of academic achievement as their male counterparts.
Key among obstacles that women face are poverty and misogynistic cultural expectations in which women are still seen as primarily homemakers and care-providers. Sexism, while not state-sanctioned, is often enforced by teachers in the classroom, especially for students at a young age. For these children, who are still developing, pervasive sexism is extremely damaging and can actually convince them to operate within India’s rigidly defined gender norms. Examples of this sexism include girls being chastised more frequently for dress code violations or breaches of conduct in schools. Additionally, for families in poverty, educating females simply is not seen as cost effective. In India, there exists a vast informal sector of the economy, which employs many women. In this industry, women do housework, aid in farmwork, and other tasks essential to the running of the family and the home. As a result, for families that live on the poverty line, the opportunity cost of allowing a daughter to stay in school past the required age is too high.
Infrastructure in schools also does not support women and contributes to high dropout rates. Many Indian schools lack separate restroom facilities for men and women. This creates a source of stress for Indian girls--a sense that is only increased when using gender-neutral bathrooms can potentially become dangerous. Female students are forced to protect themselves from male harassment and rape in restrooms, resulting in many women either choosing to avoid using the restrooms at all costs or dropping out of school entirely. In the former group, this can create health problems such as urinary tract infections and kidney issues. Additionally, once girls reach puberty, the need for separate sanitation facilities becomes even greater, and the difficulties caused by their absence only magnifies. Finally, without giving women their own restroom facilities, schools and universities send the message that their female students are unimportant and that their personal needs do not matter. For all students, this is a painful lesson to grasp, and one that inevitably dissuades women from remaining in spaces in which they are clearly not wanted.
To conclude, India has significant work to do in order to fully empower and protect its female students. All too often, female students are faced with inherent sexism from a young age, which can force them to accept unhealthy prejudices. Then, these same students must contend with a lack of facilities that tells them they do not belong. However, most importantly, India must attempt to reverse the culture of sexism and misogyny that keeps women in the same traditional roles--only then will women finally be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are legally available to them.
Givology Staff's Blog
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