The state of Rajasthan has 9 of India’s 26 worst gender gap districts in education, where 68% of girls are married below the legal age of 18. Of the girls who are enrolled in school in Rajasthan, 40% leave class before class 5. Due to the disappointing status of women and girls in rural Rajasthan, especially in the Meo Muslim dominated area, their participation in education is extremely low. In Mewat, there is a huge gap in male-female literacy: male literacy stands as 83.7%, and female 56.2%, per the 2011 census. Mewat region ranks among the most regressive districts in all of India in terms of girls’ education. In the past few months, mob violence, right-wing “cow vigilantism” and rising communalism in the name of cow protection has further marginalized Meo-Muslims in Alwar, who are primarily cattle herders. This region is also notorious for crime and gender-based violence which means that girls’ mobility is severely curtailed. The scarcity of secondary schools combined with conservative local attitudes toward females has terrible consequences for adolescent girls. In Alwar district, where Ibtada works, the sex ratio is abysmal: 895 girls for every 1,000 boys which are even lower than Rajasthan’s average of 928 girls for every 1,000 boys. The state government records for district Alwar, show that only 40% of girls enroll in secondary school education in grades XI and only 39% of girls in class XII. The reasons for dropout are the poor quality of school education leading to failure in exams, distance to schools, parents’ inability to bear school fees, girls getting married early, and reduced mobility of girls once they reach puberty.
According to UNICEF India, children from Muslim, Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities, particularly girls, make up most of the out-of-school children (67 percent) population in India - although they only make up 40 percent of the child population - indicating their disproportionate exclusion from education. 43% of girls drop out before completing secondary education due to household responsibilities, marriage, child labour, limited relevance of education for employment and employability, distance to school and/or lack of sanitation facilities at the school. Ibtada is located in a region which has very few government schools in the village and adolescent girls at the risk of dropping out of school do so on account on early marriage, parents’ reluctance to educate girls, economic situation of families that do not support girls’ education, and poor academic performance. Furthermore, the COVID19 pandemic caused the government schools to remain closed since March 2020, increasing the risk of girls being unable to continue their education.
The EMpower grant will be provided in times when the world is fighting against an unprecedented pandemic, COVID-19.
While this disruption to education and the expected reduction in global growth will have far-reaching effects for all, their impact will be particularly detrimental to the most disadvantaged students and their families, especially in poorer countries. The educational consequences of COVID-19 will last beyond the period of school closures, disproportionately affecting marginalised girls and young women. Besides the increased burden of household labour, one shadow epidemic that has resulted due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the early marriage of girls. The effects of the pandemic are life-altering for several girls in India, and there is a huge risk that many girls from marginalised communities would not return to school and will either be forced into the informal labour market or may be forced to get married.
Drawing on data from the Ebola outbreak, Malala Fund calculated the potential impact of the current school closures on girls’ dropout numbers in low- and lower-middle-income countries. They estimate that about 10 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school following the crisis and a large number of these could be from India.
The need to focus on STEM education:
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations recognise that early childhood and adolescence are significant development phases in the lifespan of an individual, forming the basis of later life outcomes. When young people, especially from marginalised backgrounds participate in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) and learn 21st century skills, they not only open doors to various occupations, increasing their chances of occupational and income mobility, but also learn to question, experiment and develop agency. However, women’s share in STEM jobs in India is a mere 14%. India’s National Education Policy (2020) too falls short of creating space for STEM in educational budget, in strategic partnerships or in a large-scale nation-wide programme. STEM education thus continues to remain a policy blind spot in India.
By articulating STEM as a mindset, the objective is to support young people, especially girls, realise their full potential by developing analytical minds and nurturing professional ambitions that haven’t been available to their parents.
Emergencies and pandemics are known to lead to large scale psychosocial impact. The psychological impact may include emergency or pandemic-induced distress (e.g. fear of the virus, death anxiety, diffused anxiety which is future oriented, grief, physical isolation of individuals, families or communities leading to non-pathological distress and mental health problems in a small minority), worsening of pre-existing problems (e.g. severe mental disorder; alcohol abuse) and humanitarian aid-related problems (e.g. anxiety due to a lack of information about food distribution). The social problems on the other hand include pre-emergency social problems (e.g. poverty; economic disparities, being a member of a group that is discriminated against or marginalised; political subjugation); emergency-induced social and economic problems (e.g. drastic decline of income generation, economic crisis, family separation; disruption of social networks; destruction of community fabric, resources and trust; increased violence against women and girls); and humanitarian aid-induced social problems (e.g. undermining of community structures or community’s existing support mechanisms). While emergencies are likely to affect masses, certain groups of individuals such as women, children, elderly, poor, migrants, frontline workers, marginalised and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities etc., are likely to be disproportionately affected by the emergencies (Source: By Aparna Joshi, Journal of Social and Economic Development,2021)
The COVID19 One Year Survey and COVID in Her Voice report further reiterated the need to provide flexible funding for local partners, support the creation of safe spaces within communities to serve multiple needs of young people including meeting basic needs like food, medicines, menstrual health services, and mental health along with ensuring that young people, especially girls, stay in schools while navigating online/blended learning due to the pronounced digital divide.
In 1996-97, Ibtada’s founder, Rajesh Singhi, conducted a benchmark survey of Mewat for the Government of Rajasthan that highlighted the scale of backwardness in this area. Based on his findings, he began Ibtada, which was formally registered in 1997. While understanding the backwardness in Mewat, it was clear that women and girls were the worst affected and most likely to bear the brunt of discrimination–whether social, political, economic—or of natural disasters (droughts etc). Promoting institutions for women is core to Ibtada’s mission to empower girls and women; to change power relations in the society, to foster decision-making power among women, to enhance their degree of control over resources and provide them space for visibility and collective action. Ibtada’s major programs include: 1) savings and credit-based women’s institutions (Self Help Groups, Clusters and Federations); 2) girls’ education programs (learning centres for girls till 5th standard, who are then mainstreamed into government schools, with life skills education and remedial coaching for girls in classes 8-10); 3) strengthening Right to Education in government schools by improving teaching and learning processes, and capacity building of school management committees; 4) livelihoods (productivity enhancement and capacity building of women farmers on agriculture, dairy animals and goats); and 5) literacy classes for adult women.
EMpower’s small grant to Ibtada will enable them to provide education and emotional wellbeing support to 200 adolescents in the age bracket of 10 to 19 years of age (65% girls and 35% boys)
The grant will enable Ibtada to meet three objectives:
A) Provide Community based education support especially in science and math during the period of school closures
B) Provide mental health and emotional wellbeing support to young people in the communities that they work in
C) COVID relief support for the adolescents and their families
Primary Location: Rajasthan
Funded Since: 2013
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