Women Empowerment through Education

Women Empowerment through Education

There is still a long way to go when it comes to ensuring that all girls have access to higher education, especially those living in poverty-stricken areas.

It’s still rare to find girls from poor backgrounds getting opportunities for higher education, especially in deprived areas like slums or informal urban settlements. Higher education is a luxury in these communities, where people are struggling just to get basic services and rights. And yet informal settlements are an inseparable part of most cities, which are only projected to grow in the coming years. Many out-of-school girls who live in these areas face debilitating exclusion because they’re often overlooked by the urban education system.

The struggle to come out of abject poverty is one of the major barriers to the education of girls living in urban slums. The onerous situation persists largely due to parents’ inability to incur a range of costs involved in education, such as school fees, transport, uniform, study material and the opportunity cost of sending girls to school. Domestic work, child labour, and early marriage are other crucial factors that impede opportunities for girls living in urban slums to get education, notably higher education. This poses a serious challenge to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all” and SDG 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030.”

Girls’ education has several unique benefits that go beyond individual biographical transformations. It can help reduce early marriage, early childbearing, and infant and maternal mortality by promoting better reproductive health practices. Additionally, it can help increase women’s participation in the workforce, reducing the wage gap and promoting economic growth. If girls are given the opportunity to stay in school and delay early marriage and pregnancy, they could make a significant contribution to India’s GDP over their lifetimes. Despite girls’ aspirations and opportunities to get higher education, neither got enough priority in educational research nor in educational practices.

Since last year, the School of Development Studies at IIHMR University has been engaged in understanding issues of urban poverty and education through a study of Vimukti Girls School. Vimukti is a unique initiative that has been providing education for poor urban girls living in Jaipur city slums since 2004. The study is being supported by Dr. Madhu Mohan and Bhoruka Charitable Trust.

The researchers have been using ethnography and child-led methodologies to gather data that includes the voices and perspectives of girls. The research focuses on children’s experiences with school education and the socio-economic systems in their communities. The research has gathered data about girls’ lived educational experiences in regards to schooling and educational attainments.

Girls’ aspirations for their future endeavours have been evolving with each passing batch from Vimukti. These aspirations are highly influenced by educational exposures, family agreement, and adolescent girls’ shared perceptions of the higher education for upliftment of the urban poor female section of the society. Vimukti’s strong education foundation gives adolescent girls conviction to attain higher education. Empathetic conversations and dialogues with the girls reveal that their desire is much more than graduating. They desire for more avenues for higher education that goes beyond polytechnic diplomas or even graduation. It is in this context, that the question of aspiration of girls needs to be expanded and relooked given the possibilities in 21st century.

This deep dive into the subjectivities of the research has uncovered a wide range of aspirations that are only partially addressed by the typical career guidance intervention. With increased awareness and confidence among girls, opportunities for higher education, especially post-graduation, have emerged as one of the unfulfilled aspirations. The ability to aspire is deeply related to and embedded in the opportunities for expanding one’s capabilities.

With the right support and a few changes, every dream and aspiration can become a reality!

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