“Ek naari padhegi, saat peedhi taregi” translates to – when one woman gets educated, seven generations are benefitted. This line is often quoted to promote girl education and hence, in the long run, boost development. Educating a woman implies that she will educate her children and thus, an entire family will grow through an empowered woman resulting in a transformed community. As women have been neglected in the society for the longest time, women education tries to cement this age-old gender gap. Apart from this, in an educated society, maternal health improves as the infant mortality rate reduces. To encourage girl/women education, government has implemented different schemes such as Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls : SABLA, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level and Dhanalakshmi Scheme.
Education is fundamentally considered one of the most powerful tools. However, I wonder how true that stands today!
Most of the rural India has a skewed perspective of what education means. Aristotle defined it as a process of continuous reconstruction of experience. Essentially, education should be an enlightening experience for people which provides them with logical and critical thinking for better decision making. It should instil ethics, values and beliefs to lead a meaningful life including academic as well as skill-based learning. In a village of Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, where I’m currently working, people look at education as academic learning only and even that does not happen holistically due to unskilled and disinterested teachers and the attitude towards education.
Skills taught in the schools, if any, are barely valued for employment. Setting up and/or running a business is considered of a lower value than getting a government job. The roles are again classified into grades of doctors, army officials, police, teachers and more. Therefore, the impact that girl education should have on a family and hence, community is not there to a great extent.
Mishirpur and Amberpur are two villages here, that I often visit. Child marriages and child labour are still prevalent. Digitalisation hasn’t had much effect, yet. Most of the parents enroll their children in government schools to avail free clothing, shoes and books. Some of the NGOs such as Milaan are working here to increase the literacy rate but several skilled women in the community are often overlooked because they are not literate enough. They have a variety of skills such as Chikankaari 1, making Peda2, stitching, milking and farming. These skills have the potential to be utilized in a better way and thus, can lead to their financial betterment. However, it is not seen as Education as the curriculum focuses more on the concepts of addition & subtraction and electrons and protons. These qualities are only counted for an eligible bride.
Even when a girl gets formal education, the patriarchal atmosphere does not let her grow to be independent. If a woman earns in a family, it is looked down upon and is considered disrespectful. Due to such oppressive structure, many women become helpless when it comes to standing up for their daughters. I went around the villages and interacted with some of them about their skills. It was indeed a learning experience. The quality of several products sold in the market seems to be lower than what these women produce.
Minati Devi*, a local resident, knows more than ten skills that can be used for livelihood generation. Some of them are stitching, embroidery, cooking and reciting Ramayana. Her green chilli pickle is a big hit here. She also makes various other salty pickles, of lemon, mango, carrot and tamarind.
Sumitra Devi* enjoys reading as well as telling stories. But after getting married, she was not encouraged to do so because of the workload at home. Since her kids started schooling, they bring library books which she reads to them and to other kids in the community. Apart from this, she is good at craft and making best out of waste. When a saree does not find its place in the cupboard, she collects them and makes foot mats and curtains.
Poornima loves to decorate. She assembles pieces from unused items like invitation cards, old clothes, bangles, fine thread and sort them into attractive wall hangings and dream catchers.
Men here use similar skills and make money, professionally, while women get dependent on them. This automatically gives men more power and take some from others. The families would be in a better place only when everyone understands that all individuals should have equal rights. Does the concept of education needs to be redefined? Because education alone cannot take care of everything or everyone, can it?
*Names changed to protect identity.
1. Chikankaari is a traditional embroidery style famous in Lucknow.
2. Peda is a sweet dish made of milk.