Although access to education has been considered a basic right in India since 2009, many girls in rural India are not attending higher education, or are dropping out of school before completing their primary education. In Rajasthan (state in North India), girls are three times more likely to not attend school compared to their male counterparts (UNICEF Report 2019). A UNCRC report submitted in 2000, stated that girls living in rural areas of India, are constantly deprived of adequate access to basic health care, nutrition and education. The report even found that families preferred to educate their male child rather than their female child. Evidence for this claim was supported by the statistic that almost one third of the girls who enter formal education in class I (grade 9) drop out before entering class II (grade 10) (UNICEF Report 2019).
UNICEF also reported in 2017 that illiterate women in rural areas have especially high rates of young pregnancies, infant and maternal mortality, and overall morbidity. UNICEF’s report states that there are many “barriers to girls’ education, including poverty, child marriage, gender-based violence, and gender biases”(UNICEF Report 2017). Research also suggests that in many rural communities educating girls is looked down on, and assumed to be a useless endeavor, since many girls are married off before they turn 18.
In its National Plan of Action for Children (2016), India has asserted that its priority areas are health, nutrition, education, water, sanitation and environment. This plan gives special consideration to children in difficult circumstances and aims at providing a framework, within which equal and accessible education for all can/should be implemented. The Indian government has also repeatedly urged all state governments to prepare plans of action for children within their territories, while taking into account the regional and cultural disparities or stigmas that exist there. Although on paper, the Indian government seems to have created multiple ministries and programs (Ministry of Women and Children Development, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Education Initiative, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level) to combat the high percentages of elementary and high school dropout rates among girls, there is very little evidence that suggests the country’s efforts are effective. As of 2018, Rajasthan, India’s 7th largest state, still has the lowest literacy rate for women at 46% (rural Rajasthani men- 76%). Despite slight increases to Rajasthan’s literacy rate over the years, research has shown that almost 37% of literate women had dropped out of school before completing 8th grade.
As dropout rates among rural Rajasthani women continue to increase, serious modifications must be made to India’s approach toward universal education, through both policy change and cultural de-stigmatization. School conditions, house work, the child labor industry, and stigma surrounding menstruation, are just a few of the reasons rural women are kept from obtaining an education, whether it be elementary or higher education. Therefore, without intervention, these issues will continue to prevent Indian girls, living in rural areas, from obtaining an education and living longer, healthier lives.
In terms of effective solutions to the state of girls’ education in rural areas like Rajasthan, the NGO Jolkona suggests that while the “government continues to work on a large scale with little success, NGOs and nonprofits can work at a local scale where a significant difference can be made”. The Veerni Project (a local Rajasthani organization) for example, has played an important role in increasing the number of adolescent girls enrolled in secondary education. By establishing several secondary education centers in Rajasthani villages, and by providing community development programs for the women of these villages, this NGO works to empower young girls to pursue an education and continue their schooling. Thus, “mobilizing communities” in support of girls’ education in rural India and have made substantial improvements in not only educating girls in proper facilities, but also in “educating rural families in the positive impacts of educated daughters”.
Educating young women not only empowers them, but also improves the quality of life of a woman’s family and her community. Although we consider the right to education a fundamental and basic right in America, it is important to understand why countries like India have been unable to set a similar standard in their urban and rural regions. As the gender gap in education continues to widen in rural India, the social and cultural beliefs and practices, as well as the infrastructural issues that prevent girls from obtaining a proper education must be considered. In order for more rural women to more readily negotiate structures of power, according to the critical feminist perspective, they must be educated. However this is not possible until India and other countries with such education gaps, reassess funding allocations, societal stigmas, and international pressures.