Supporting An Education for All Girls

14 May


With the search ongoing for the 250-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, taken from their school on the 14th April, we revisit the poignant words of Preneet Kaur, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs – who spoke about the importance of giving girls an opportunity to get an education, at Salwan Media’s One Globe 2014 Conference held at The Imperial in New Delhi, February 2014.

“We want more youngsters to get a world-class education so that India’s scientists and engineers can earn their place in the world. However, we also understand that India is home to one third of the total number of illiterates in the world. This is a statistic in which no India would take pride but in a country where nearly 70% of the population lives in rural areas, access to educational opportunities is difficult and this handicap is amplified many times for the girl child. Add to this the social attitudes towards women and it is obvious that we need a multi-pronged approach if we are to achieve education for women.

It needs to be understood that women are the foundation of a basic unit of society, the family. Even in traditional roles they demonstrate great innovation, skill, intelligence, hard work and commitment. We need to address, rather than focus on providing education to women – and the girl child in particular.

While certain development indicators show their quality of life is improving, maternal mortality rates declining, literacy rates increasing, more women gaining access to healthcare and education, the pace of change is still slow. India ranks 113 out of 135 in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. According to India’s 2011 census, the sex ratio for children under six was 914 females to 1000 males, a disturbing decline from 927 in 2001. The ranking of Indian women in economic empowerment is 0.3, where 1.0 means equality.

Denying women opportunities to realize their potential is a waste of human capital and a bar to economic progress. When we educate and empower one woman we set of a chain reaction that transforms the life of a family and the community she lives in.

An exemplary model is the network of trained, accredited social health activists, ASHA, created under the national rural health mission who have played a crucial role in improving the health of women and children across India. With over half the population of India under the age of 25, I have no doubt that the route to economic recovery starts at our schools. The Indian industry needs to aid the government and it’s schools to help build a nation of educated and skilled people.

Converting India into a knowledge society shall require, inter alia, addressing the issue of expansion, excellence and inclusion in education while formulating policies for achieving the same.

The role of education in our lives was so delicately and emotionally put by Malala in the United Nations. She said, “We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” And when the Taliban came to her and her classmate, she said, and I quote “ We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.” Malala was speaking on her sixteenth birthday and she urged the world community to wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Education, she said, is the only solution and I could not agree more.”

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