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Women in rural Kashmir are forced to quit education early

Kupwara, Fri, 02 Mar 2012 ANI

Kupwara, Mar 2 (ANI): Holding my graduation degree firmly, I felt proud that I have become more than just "being educated". Becoming the first educated women in the family to make it to graduation was indeed a cause for me to celebrate and rejoice the promises of a bright future.


As I looked around to share my joy, my eyes spotted many girls who could not achieve what I did, as their parents made them leave schools soon after they cleared their class 8th exams!


And that paints the reality of female education in my village - Salamat Wadi.


A picturesque hamlet tucked away in Karalpura block in the district of Kupwara in Kashmir, Salamat Wadi was always occupied, and still is, with the basic issues of livelihood.


The extensive struggle of the community for their minimal necessities never brought to limelight the issue which perhaps could have eradicated all other problems - the importance of education. The problem was further deepened by the mindset of gender biased society which for several reasons never allowed the female child of the family to study beyond class 8th.


As per the data published by the 2011 census, the literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir is 78.26 percent for males and 58.01 percent for females. On comparing the statistics of female literacy in urban regions to the rural areas, the veracity of the women education in villages like Salamat Wadi will become much more transparent - the rural female literacy rate is 53.36 percent to 70.19 percent of urban female literacy rate. Earlier in 2001 report, it was 36.7% and 61.9% at rural and urban level, respectively.


The improvement in the statistics reflect the seriousness of the J and K Government towards the development of women in state, however, the fact remains that despite the progress made, the female literacy has remained very low in the state as compared to men. Gender inequality in literacy in J and K is not a new phenomenon. In 1961, while literacy rate for males was 16.97 percent, it was only 4.27 percent for females.


Over the years, government has announced several schemes to promote education among women - free textbooks to all girls up to class VIII, bridge courses for older girls, back to school camps for out-of-school girl, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) are few of the initiatives that focused on gender equality in education. And perhaps because of these initiatives only we have been able to achieve the current status - then where is it we are lacking? Why is the output is not satisfactory?


In the Salamat Wadi region, parents usually engage girls into household chores after class 8th. The step follows the conservative mentality to prepare the young girls for marriage, as education will not help them anyway.


Villagers are still unaware of the role that education plays in facilitating social and economic progress. They have a strong (at least to them) argument to put forth: "In any case we have to spend on dowry, why spend over education then? The more educated our girls would be, more it will become difficult for us to find a match for them. And for this, they are ready to destroy the dreams of their daughters and force them to live a dependant life forever."


Education empowers people with skills and knowledge and gives them access to employment - irrelevant of the gender. When we talk about women empowerment, education plays an effective role not only from the point of view of literacy but its association with other social parameters like health care and education of children help them understand life rationally.


They, especially the rural counterparts, acquire awareness and technology, which are required for all round development. Education among females is vital for higher health standards and better "maternal competence" which ultimately leads to lower infant mortality. Besides, it also contributes to women's economic output.


This "sound-good" philosophy is the missing link between the policies and the villagers. Living near the border, they are more concerned about the security of their daughters. "Even if we wish to send our daughters to school, we can't trust the circumstances," said one of the dwellers of Salamat Wadi. They are skeptical about allowing their daughters to step out of their houses, not even to schools.


The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the government besides launching schemes should focus on two things - winning the confidence of the people residing in the rural border regions of the state and creating awareness among them.


The outcome of the hard work invested will be fruitful only when the community will show interest in the initiative. By Shakila Khaliq (ANI)


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