the girl and the broom

This picture was taken by one of our students during the recent workshop on photography held at our women centre. The picture speaks for itself: the broom a silent but eloquent reminder of the fate of girls in India.

Let us look at some statistics: India has the largest population of children as 40% of its population is under 18; one out of every six girl child does not live to see her 15th birthday; Every sixth girl child's death is due to gender discrimination; 35 million children do not go the school, 53% of girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years are illiterate; 60% girls drop out out school before class V. The list is endless and distressing.

In spite of our best efforts we have seen girls drop out of school for a host of reasons, but one of the most shocking one is because many schools do not have toilets for girls! This is something that could be easily remedied if the State had the will to do so. The condition of government run schools in our capital is truly abysmal. Wonder where all the funds go. However that is not the only reason: girls are often made to drop out of school to take on the role of caretakers particularly in urban migrant households where both parents work. Sadly this situation will not change as children under the age of 6 are not covered by the right to education act and the state does not run free preschool facilities. So girls become the obvious and only choice to look after younger siblings. In homes the discrimination continues: girls are less likely to receive immunisation, nutrition or medical treatment compared to a male child. Moreover even if they go to school, girls never get proper support be it books or the much needed tuition that is a must as practically no teaching is done in schools. Even the illiterate have realised the worth of such schools and boys are often send to the ever mushrooming private schools. Girls however are sent to the free Government school if at all.

Let us not forget that in most cases the sole concern of parents is to get the girl married asap and it is often believed that too much education limits the choices of possible grooms. A girl needs to know how to cook, clean and maybe sow. More than that is not considered kosher. And the more educated the groom the larger the dowry. Education is thus viewed as an impediment and not an asset.

The question that comes to mind is how does one change things. Voting laws and Acts is not the answer as often these remain unknown to the beneficiaries. Gender related issues need to be addressed with patience, understanding and perseverance.