With the provision of the fundamental right to education, absenteeism has reduced and number of children attending schools increased. However, for women the scope is limited. This article dives into the literacy rate of women and the factors that limit their participation and their impact on social and health outcomes.
Gender and Education: What impact does health have on these in contemporary India?
Chanya Kapoor is a graduate in Public Policy from St Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. She is interested in the areas of health, education, human rights, gender and disability. She has previously interned with organisations like NDTV 24X7, Government of NCT of Delhi, and has earned accolades for her conscientious and passionate efforts.
Education and health have been recognised as a foundation of many developing and developed societies. It is one of the cornerstones in the development of human capital and has contributed towards enhancing social mobility. In the Indian context, education has been a highly debated topic, and notions and perceptions among people and within policies have been changing constantly. The scope for discussion expands at the international platform, where the utmost importance is given to education for women and the possible reasons for higher dropout rates among women at an early age. Education has further been a priority due to its impact on the other facets of life such as – health, economic growth, physical and emotional well-being and more. A landmark step in the context of Indian education policy was the recognition of education as a fundamental right in Right to Education Act (2012), accompanied with policies like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan. This policy framework led to an increase in enrolment rates and reduced dropouts among students. However, in the case of female education the challenges have been multidimensional including social economic and cultural factors.
Over the last two Census rounds, the female literacy rate in the subcontinent has seen a positive change from 53.67% in 2001 to 65.46% in 2011. However, this number is still far from the global average of 79.7%. Further, there is a huge disparity in numbers among different states. Kerala, for instance, has a female literacy rate of 92.07%, while Bihar clocks in at a paltry 53.33%. This huge difference within the country can be attributed to the different models and approaches of development adopted in the states. But a crucial statistic to note is the dropout rate which stands at a staggering 63.5%. This implies that more than half of the girls drop out of the education system at the onset of adolescence (Census of 2011). There are multiple reasons for this:
- Menstruation and sanitation– Inadequate sanitation facilities including, lack of a clean and hygienic toilet in the school premises has been a major reason for these dropouts. This is especially true for the female students who are stepping into adolescence and are beginning their struggle with the taboos related to menstruation. This leaves them with limited choices of which dropping out of school becomes the one they are forced to make.
- Unpaid care work– Culturally, caregiving has been attributed as a task for women in most Indian communities. Therefore, to share the chores and take care of their younger siblings becomes a responsibility for the female child as both parents are out earning the household income. This happens in rural and urban regions alike.
3.Wedlock or other family-related reasons – Child Marriage or marriage at an early age has been entrenched within some sections of society for ages. This plays a crucial role in driving female students out of schools and further affects the employability and hence, the number of opportunities in the job market.
- Lack of infrastructure– Due to the unavailability of sufficient and accessible transportation facilities, and the apprehensions among the parents about their girl child traveling long distances alone, acts as a barrier to access to education. It has been noted in various studies that the proximity of the school from the student’s house is closely related to the attendance of the female child. (Ainsworth et al. (2005)).
- Economic factors– In many communities in both urban and rural India, there is a clear gender bias while investing in children’s education. This bias is more evident in families with limited financial resources, where the female child is forced to drop out and contribute to the household chores or other related activities.
Education and Health: Coherence and Synergies
In the past two decades, education has been a prime focus area in policy making, due to its impact on the other sustainable development goals. It provides an opportunity to explore, learn and bring a change in the daily choices of one’s life. It is popularly quoted that if a woman is educated, we are not just providing education to that person but rather to the entire family. The high dropout rates have raised concerns regarding health outcomes of the family and the hygiene maintained.
There is not enough awareness and access to good health and hygiene practices in India, especially among women. This statement could be supported by the data on the persistence of reproductive diseases and anaemia among women. From the total number, 70% of reproductive diseases among women can be directly linked to lack of menstrual hygiene. Additionally, anaemia exists among 58.6% of the children, 53.2% of non- pregnant women and 50.4% of pregnant women. Nutritionally deprived pregnancies do not only impact women but also the coming three generations. It poses a risk over the lives of women during birth and also impacts the motor and cognitive growth of the child. As per the IndiaSpend report of 2016, iron deficiency anaemia is the prevalent reason for disability in the country.
While discussing health related outcomes for women, it is important to discuss the preliminary role played by ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers. This system is a product of the National Health Mission 2010. The role played by ASHA workers is crucial to the lives of both mothers and their children in most parts of the country. They play a variety of roles from community sensitization programs, to counsel the mother and the family over breastfeeding and prenatal care. Their contribution is on-ground and is very crucial in influencing the nutrition and family decisions made by members of that community. This system is of due importance and a hope for improving the health and hygiene measures adopted by the families. Therefore, it needs to be implemented more effectively, with a support system for the workers as well.
In the view of both anaemia and reproductive diseases, it is evident that their widespread nature can be linked to the education status of women. Lack of awareness, hygiene, and the ability to form informed decisions regarding nutrition or the existing stereotypes to menstrual health have reduced the window for discussion. Poor sanitation has been the leading cause that impacts the health of the expecting mother and the holistic development of the child.
Regardless of the scenario, India has developed a policy framework to support education for all, and awareness over the importance of education for women. Along with it, the government has developed programs to eliminate the probability of Anaemia among women like, ‘Anaemia Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan’. The policy arena has aimed in creating an ecosystem to include the needs of all, through proper implementation plans. This could be seen in the change in the data, the number of children with Anaemia has reduced by 10% due to the improved education of women in families from 2005-06 to 2015-16. In the same period, anaemia among pregnant women reduced by 24% due to betterment in maternal schooling.
Looking at the facts and figures, it can be understood that it is crucial for the policies and community action to be in synchronicity. Otherwise, the policy would be limited to being a ‘paper tiger’. The change needs to begin at the grassroot level. Therefore, it is vital for all the stakeholders from civil society to Asha workers and kin to give importance to education and both emotional and physical well-being.
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