A YOUNG Malala Yousafzai became an international icon after she was brutally attacked by the Taliban, in 2012, for opposing the militant group’s ban on girls’ education. The teenager was returning home from school in her hometown of Mingora in Swat district, Pakistan when she was shot in the head.
Malala became a target after she spoke up against gender bias even as the Taliban bombed schools in the Swat valley. She was also writing a blog for BBC Urdu under the pseudonym Gul Makai about her life amidst increasing militant activity and girls’ education.
She was flown to the UK for treatment and survived following months of surgeries and rehabilitation. After recovery, an undeterred Malala returned to the public arena and continued her advocacy for gender rights. She also co-authored the book I am Malala which became an international bestseller.
Addressing the United Nations on July 12, 2013 on her sixteenth birthday, Malala said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dubbed July 12 as ‘Malala Day’ in her honour and for her stand to ensure education for all. In December 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
As Malala continues to raise her voice for the right to education, the situation is far from ideal in many countries including India.
The crisis in girls’ education in India
When 17-year-old Saira’s parents started looking for a groom for her, she pleaded with them to let her study till class 12 at least. Saira is from a low-income family in Kudgaon, a remote village in Rajasthan.
Like most families in rural India, it’s been a tough year for them, too. Her father hasn’t been able to find work since the lockdown in March 2020, and unable to keep the family afloat, he thought of marrying Saira off to reduce the burden on the family.
There are millions like Saira. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 6 million children out of school, in India, and girls are most affected. This number is likely to increase because of greater economic insecurity among low-income families.
The closure of schools has disrupted the education of nearly 290 million children in India alone. Digital learning has posed several difficulties for children from low-income groups because of limited access to electronic devices and a lack of internet. With high dependency on traditional textbooks and little or no support from home, their learning levels are likely to drop.
Because of economic difficulties, the re-enrollment of girls in schools, especially in rural areas, is likely to get even more challenging.
The need to empower India’s daughters
Girls in many impoverished, illiterate families are treated as inferior to boys because of the patriarchal value system. In many families, even now, a girl child is considered a liability. Many economically disadvantaged households spend little on girls’ education once they cross the free schooling threshold and parents prefer to invest in the tuition fees for boys. It is common for families to keep their daughters at home after they hit puberty and marry them off early.
Equal opportunities often escape girls even when they are talented and seek a better future. Oppressed by poverty and unequal access to food, education, healthcare, and employment, most have little choice but to resign to their ill fate. A girl like Malala is an exception.
India cannot progress if half of the society is still subject to discrimination. Education is key to empower girls. By the time girls reach adolescence in India, almost 40% are out of school, a majority kept at home doing household chores instead of preparing for further studies and gainful employment. Studies have shown that each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of a child marrying before the age of 18.
Educating a girl child can transform her and her family’s life for the better. Investing in girls’ education is not a waste of money, but the best use of it. When a girl is educated, she is empowered to decide for herself, raise the standard of living for her family and children, generate more employment options and reform society at large. Our country needs a change in mindset towards girls’ education.
GiveIndia’s Mission: Every Girl in School supports the education of thousands of girls. Just ₹1,200/month can ensure two girls from underprivileged backgrounds are not denied their right to education and a better future. When you donate to our mission, we will send you the name and photograph of the child you are supporting and keep you updated on the periodic progress reports about her.
As schools reopen, let’s make sure every girl returns to class. Don’t let Covid snatch away the fragile progress India has made in girls’ education. Join our mission here.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.