The Massive Impact Of Covid-19 On Girls Education In India
Let’s start with some statistics:
The mobile phone has become extremely commonplace and the number of people who do not own one is probably a small one. However, in India, there is a gender gap, even in the number of mobile internet users – if 42% of men are using the internet via mobile, in comparison, only 21% of the women are doing the same.
Similarly, UNICEF reported that the most commonly used platforms for studying online – YouTube and WhatsApp – was 8% lower in girls than boys.
The impact of covid-19 on education in India was one that will be talked about for years to come – however, it is the effects that it has had on the education of girls that are most disturbing. When the pandemic first hit, most schools chose not to function at all; but when the government realised that the pandemic was going to stretch out, the only option that remained was to go the online way. Schools all over the world, including those in India, started using either the internet or the medium of television to continue education.
However, the pandemic hit the girl child the hardest – not only was she no longer able to go to school, there were several other problems that were awaiting her. With the financial situation during the COVID-19 going from bad to worse for several families, and in some cases, stopping altogether, due to the pandemic, there was a massive disruption of education, mostly for the girls. Here are just some of the problems that cropped up during the pandemic:
- The gender based digital divide became extremely evident during the pandemic – given that families from lower income groups would have access to only one mobile phone (and maybe no laptop) the preference would be given to the boy in the family. The general notion in several families in India, even today, continues to be one where the boy needs to be given the better life. Girls will eventually get married off and will have to take care of the household and family, which is why her education can afford to take the back seat. Learning losses from COVID-19 arose massively courtesy of this lack of access to technology.
- Because of the financial problems, several girls were forced to drop out of school – the financial crunch meant that not all the children could be offered an education and yet again, the boys were given preference. Girls were made to take on domestic chores or work menial jobs that could allow them to make some money. In worst case scenarios, the girls would be married off, because that would reduce the burden of at least one person from the family; a sight that is sadly common in rural areas, even today! Reports show that India has the largest share of child brides and during the pandemic it was bound to rise – it was observed that there was close to a 20% increase in the number of distress calls being registered due to early marriages.
- A scary problem that came to the forefront during the pandemic was the increase in domestic abuse and sexual violence against girls. UNESCO mentioned in a report that more than the virus itself, the danger to girls lay in the above-mentioned issues. With economic burdens, disruption in services and an overall sense of frustration that was building up, girls were becoming easy victims to abuse of all forms. An associated problem was that of education on sexual health and well-being – abuse could mean pregnancy, something the girls might not have been prepared to handle at all.
- Something as basic as sanitary pads became a problem during the pandemic – for many girls from lower income and financially marginalised backgrounds, access to menstrual aids was through schools. As per the National Family Health Survey conducted in the year 2015-16, only 36% of Indian women were using sanitary napkins. The survey took into account 336 million women in India who were menstruating at the time. In order to bring a change to this situation, the central government as well as several state governments, launched schemes, wherein girls had access to free sanitary pads at their schools. However, now that the girls were not able to go to school, they no longer had access to sanitary pads. This led to several health issues, which yet again, due to financial duress, meant improper care, and in a few cases, untimely death. This was a problem that was seen a lot more in rural areas, where access to sanitary pads is a lot tougher.
- Another one of the pandemic effects on girl education came like this – in India, primary education is free in most government run schools, however, secondary and higher education is not. This meant that if the girls who had completed primary education wanted to continue, the financial restrictions would hit them hard. In case they had dropped out during the pandemic, returning to school would be pretty much impossible for them.
At Educate Girls, Safeena Husain’s constant endeavour has been to bring girls back to school – and her efforts through the organisation multiplied during the pandemic. In November 2021, Educate Girls undertook a study to understand how the pandemic was affecting the education of girls and how the problem could multiply and manifest. The results showed that more boys were continuing in school and the return rate was also higher in boys. Thanks to Safeena’s pilot program named Camp Vidya, Educate Girls was able to facilitate community-based learning in several villages. While keeping all safety protocols in place, teams were able to create engaging learning environments and help continue education during covid too.
If you too want to learn more about Safeena’s mission and how Educate Girls has worked to ensure continuing education for girls during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic world, visit our website.
Posted on December 30, 2022