Frontlist | How Education is Transforming Lives of Rural Women

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As an educator in Uttar Pradesh, I have closely witnessed the miracles education can create in the lives of children from rural underprivileged backgrounds. It transforms lives of people by driving a deep impact not only on the individuals but their families and communities as well. As somebody has already said “to educate a woman is to educate an entire generation”. Education can be a catalytic force that allows women to break stereotypes and barriers of deep rooted gender bias and inequality as well as empower them to create awareness about women rights, health and hygiene.

The fact that state of education in rural India is in need of an overhaul is not new. However, what is also needed is to make the education environment more enabling and nurturing for young girls. It needs to encourage them to become independent thinkers and forward looking individuals who fight for their rights, uplift their lives and lead as examples in their communities for others.

I have personally dealt with young boys and girls coming from rural villages with preconceived notions about gender roles. While boys are instilled with beliefs of being the ultimate breadwinners, girls are raised with a mind-set to get married at an early age, do the housework and bring up children. These ideas and attitudes become the first barrier in the way of women empowerment and this is where I believe holistic education can play an important role. When classroom education goes beyond teaching lessons to create awareness among both the genders around social conditioning and biases, we can hope to nurture a younger generation where men and women have an equal footing and contribute to the dream of our country becoming a truly progressive nation.

Today, there are innumerable stories of young women who have broken stereotypes across academics, sports, and other careers owing to their exposure to transformative education and a progressive mind-set. Arati Devi, who became the youngest sarpanch (village council head) in India is one such example of the deep impact that education leaves on the psyche of young women, fanning the flames of their aspirations, and encouraging them to go where their mothers couldn’t. Hailing from the Dhunkapa village of Odisha’s Ganjam district, Arati was the first girl in the panchayat to get a first division in the Class 10 board examination. She went on to become a banker and decided to give it up and enter local politics to improve conditions in her village by helping make the benefits of various government social welfare schemes available to the villagers. She was one among only 21 participants at the 2014 International Leadership Programme on State and Local Governments in the United States. represent India.  Today, Arati is a role model for several others, not only in her village, but also the state and our country.

I have personally been witness to another young role model in the making from the small village of Kuwarpur Baghel in the Hardoi district of central Uttar Pradesh. 19-year-old Shikoh Zaidi, inspired by Deepa Narayan’s famous book on gender inequality ‘Chup’, has driven an impactful campaign on breaking taboos around periods and spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene in her village. This was a book she picked up from her school library as part of her reading assignment and it went on to change her outlook to life, defy conventions and take up a cause that most people would shy away from. Every time Shikoh was back to her village from her residential school, she and her father would go door-to-door inviting young girls and their mothers to join her for sessions where simple animated films on menstrual hygiene were screened and conversations around menstruation encouraged. Undeterred by the initial negative reactions that she faced, her efforts have made significant impact with more young girls and their mothers adopting safe menstrual practices in her village. Today, Shikoh is pursuing her higher education at Georgetown University in Qatar with 100 percent scholarship and speaks of wanting to come back to her village to help improve lives of women there.

These are just two among countless examples of daughters of rural India who have not only achieved personal success through transformative education but have tried or plan to use that to motivate countless other women.

In an economy still coming to grips with and recuperating from a global pandemic, it is even more important today to recognize the role that women are playing and have the potential to play when it comes to leading their families, communities, and the nation.  In the end, I just want to say that it is time India creates seamless pathways for women to aim higher and become achievers. The more women achievers we celebrate, the more girls would aspire to join their league and become a transformative force in our nation.

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