India’s girl child: Do not leave her behind
October 20, 2021 - India
Across India, people are uniting to mobilize the future for the country’s girls, which actually results in uniting for the good of all. According to UNICEF, India has the largest adolescent population in the world, 253 million, and every fifth person is between 10 to 19 years. Both girls and boys lack access to information and resources that affect their quality of lives.
However, adolescent girls are especially exposed to multiple layers of vulnerability due to social norms that affect their value. This includes limited access to education, child labour, lack of sanitation facilities, maternal and newborn disease and death, and 1.5 million child brides every year—a third of the global total.
India stands to benefit socially, politically and economically if its adolescent girls are safe, healthy, educated and equipped with information and life skills to support the country’s continued development. At Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, researchers are formulating ways to make this vision a reality.
Let’s not ignore her—because she matters
by Rasika Soman
AMMACHI Labs, Researcher
It’s time to rethink the condition of adolescent girls in India, to reflect upon ourselves and to ask our minds, “What are we doing to improve the condition of girls in our country?”
From the day India became an independent nation in 1947, it has achieved tremendous development in terms of improvement of our GDP, technological development, industrial development and foreign trade. But behind this so-called ‘success’ remains the deplorable condition of young girls who are often neglected, especially in rural India.
Central and state governments are making efforts to uplift this marginalized section of society through various initiatives. This includes enabling bank accounts for girls (Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana), raising the overall status of the girl child (Balika Samridhi Yojana), and providing financial support to impoverished families when a girl is born (Mukhyamantri Rajshri Yojana).
But the question remains as to how much impact these programs have had on changing the perspective and attitude of the masses towards the girl child in our country. This is not only applicable to ‘uneducated, backward and marginalized’ rural areas, but is also prevalent in the so-called ‘educated urban cities’.
The condition of women in India can be appropriately analyzed by the UN’s World Population Report 2020. It states that the number of ‘missing females’ in India stands at 45.8 million over the last 50 years. This refers to those girls who are either killed before they are born due to sex selection or deliberately killed after birth by lack of proper nutrition and care.
In a country where the womb of the woman is primarily considered favorable to give birth to a boy, the girl child is seen as unfortunate, a taboo and a liability for the family. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that if such a condition prevails in India, we will see a time when the grooms will not have brides to marry, and this will further result in social vices such as rapes, child-trafficking and child marriages.
Even though our country is plagued with this incessant uncaring towards the girl child, Amrita’s AMMACHI Labs, Center for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment and AmritaCREATE have been striving to provide the marginalized and left-out girls with quality education, health and nutrition, safety and security, and inclusive development.
For example in November 2018, AMMACHI Labs was selected by the Government of India to be an implementing agency of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). It is an initiative designed to provide quality skill development to youth from 18-35 years who are sidelined from formal training, which is especially the case in remote areas and tribal communities. Today, Amrita-PMKVY operates centers in Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The project has a specific focus on young women and includes training them in sectors which are primarily male-dominated in India. There are programs in automotive repair, plumbing, tailoring and general duty assistants in health care. Amrita-PMKVY operates on a hub and spoke model, which helps to widen the reach of the project.
This is just one of many of Amrita’s endeavors. A participative approach coupled by empathy and compassion is the recipe for the success of its initiatives. So let us get inspired and join hands to uplift the girl children in our country. Every girl really matters.
The gendered impact of COVID-19 on education
by Vipul Chawla
Master of Social Work Student
COVID-19 has disrupted various sectors and segments of the global economy. Women and girls, especially the poor and marginalized, are more vulnerable to these disruptions. They are pressured to absorb the unprecedented socio-economic and political shocks without the means to mitigate such changes.
Data by UNESCO represents that out of the total students enrolled globally, over 89 percent (or 1.54 billion children) are out of school because of closures due to COVID-19; this includes nearly 743 million girls.
Similar to many countries, in India, the pandemic impacted the education sector massively. With prolonged school closures leading to moving away from traditional classroom teaching to digital means, the persisting inequalities have widened further. A policy brief by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and Child Rights and You (CRY) states that this could result in a million more girls and transgender children dropouts, especially poor, disabled, or those living in rural areas.
Even in the pre-COVID-19 times, the literacy rate of females was lower than the literacy rate of males. Although the female literacy rate increased by eight percent (from 62.3 percent in 2007-08 to 70.3 percent in 2017-18), many have never enrolled in any educational institution. Reasons included lack of interest, financial constraints, and engagement in domestic activities.
The effects of COVID-19 are disproportionately skewed towards adolescent girls. With widespread unemployment and an unstable labour market, many families have been pushed into poverty and face economic difficulties. In such crisis-like situations, the financial and opportunity costs of educating daughters are introspected and scrutinized even more.
With this fragility and uncertainty, child marriage becomes a coping mechanism for some families to relieve financial pressure. UNICEF warns that due to the pandemic, about 10 million more girls worldwide will be prone to child marriage in the next decade.
Estimates also infer that each year at least 1.5 million girls below 18 years get married in India. With one in three of the world’s child brides residing in India, our country is home to 223 million child brides. It is identified that the incidence of child marriage in India is highly likely for girls belonging to poor households, having a lower level of education, or residing in rural areas.
The pandemic pushed many children across states, class, caste, gender, and region out of schools due to the digital divide that already exists in our country. According to a Govt of India survey in 2017-2018, nearly four percent of rural households and 23 percent of urban households possessed computers. About 24 percent of the households in the country had internet access (15 percent among rural households and 42 percent among urban households), with females having lower access as compared to males.
Girls belonging to vulnerable households are at more risk of being burdened with domestic duties or getting married. This leads to inaccessibility of digital education either because of inadequate access to technologies or because of the prioritization of a male child’s access to common digital resources. The persisting gender digital divide and the necessity of virtual education are bound to foster the existing inequalities in terms of access to basic education.
This year, the International Day of the Girl Child had the theme ‘Digital Generation: Technology and innovation as accelerators of girls’ bodily autonomy’. The focus was on celebrating girls utilizing technology for a better future and an urgent call for action to expand digital connectivity for those left behind. By empowering them in their communities as well as digitally, the aim is to:
- Close the digital gender divide in connectivity, devices and use
- Channel their creativity to design innovative digital solutions to help girls achieve their rights and secure their bodily autonomy
- Create a digital world that is accessible and safe for all
Aiding girls with equal access to digital tools and information will provide them with the ability to make informed decisions. Education is a strong means to break the vicious circle of discrimination and it ensures an equal future for girls. The digital revolution in gender is hence vital for the empowerment of not just girls, but the global society as a whole.
Digital Generation. Our Generation.
by Gayathri Sujatha
Master of Social Work Student
Girls need to know their digital realities and have the capabilities to pave their own pathways to build an empire of dreams in this new generation of technologists.
On October 11, 2012, the world observed the first International Day of the Girl Child. People—both men and women—held various events and campaigns to raise awareness about the challenges faced by girls across the globe and to create a healthy and safe environment for every girl child.
This year, nine years on, the theme specified the digital realm: ‘Digital Generation. Our Generation.’ Digitalization is continually evolving and expanding, and technologies range from internet and mobile to virtual and augmented realities to artificial intelligence, including machine learning, robotics, automated systems and data analytics.
Digital literacy is crucial for the development of our children and youth in a wide range of areas. This especially includes employability, which links to higher earning potential and new economic opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, 90 percent of jobs will require digital skills by 2030.
At the same time, gender inequality in the physical world is replicated in the digital world, and we can see a large gap in girls’ access as compared to boys’. While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital platforms for education and work, some people in India, especially rural, still do not have internet access at home. This also results in the digital divide being overwhelmingly focused on women and girls.
During COVID-19, many women and girls are going through exceedingly vulnerable situations. Domestic violence, child marriage and child abuse seem to have reached a peak. At the same time, the closure of schools has led to online classes and the vaccination for COVID-19 is facilitated by online registration.
Many women and girls are not able to access protection or participation because of lack of digital communications. Compared to men, fewer women own mobile phones, and those who have them often have models that are dated, broken or malfunctioning. Smartphones are a far-fetched dream for many women, especially in rural India.
In addition, the cost of data is higher in remote areas with lower connectivity. There is a lack of market competition, and this further prevents women and girls from accessing the internet and digital technology. If mobile operators were able to support digital literacy development for girls, especially for those out of school and in isolated places, their perspective on the world would completely change.
Another factor for girls—we live in a technological era, but girls are not equally supported and encouraged to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In fact, the gender disparity is alarming in the field of STEM, which is driving future innovation and social wellbeing. Both girls and boys should equally participate in the attainment of their individual goals, alongside accomplishment of our national goals to improve our future as a community.
There are multiple layers at work in the digital gender gap. They include inequitable access to education, harmful social norms, gender inequality, digital illiteracy, and, worst of all, the risks associated with digital technologies—online harassment, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, unsolicited sexual messages, and child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Supporting digital literacy for girls can provide protection so they have both the skills and awareness about how to use technology safely and securely with trusted information and protected data.
To contribute to this formula, educational policies by the government should support the implementation of digital skill training in the formal school curriculum. This needs to start at the primary level so that girls can build their skills over time. Digital literacy training can also be given to parents so they understand the parameters of digital technology, both risks and benefits, and can support girls to stay safe online.
Organizations that represent women and girls will need to ensure that the legal framework offers protection to women and girls for online safeguarding, security and data privacy. Policy making regulatory bodies are repeatedly committed to bridging the gender gaps in every sector of the economy, including digital inclusion. By nullifying the gender gap in every sector, women and girls can explore the world of opportunities, as well as challenges, and this can transform our world.
Most importantly, we should listen to opinions and suggestions from the girls themselves so that as a community, we include their experiences when developing digital products and services.
Digital literacy enhances confidence, empowerment, knowledge and opens doors to a world of opportunities. Human resources are the greatest source for economic, social, political and cultural development. Since girls are a vital part of that formula, they should be given the freedom to equally participate in the digital world.