The importance of literacy can’t be denied in any way. World Bank studies have confirmed the direct and functional relationship between literacy and productivity on the one hand and literacy and the overall quality of human life on the other. Far away from these facts is the harsh reality that women in India are still denied their right to read and learn.

In the 2011 census, the overall literacy rate was found to be 74.04%. These numbers may seem tempting but the thing that is of great concern is the gap in female and male literacy. The female literacy rate in India is 65.46% whereas the male literacy rate is over 80%. The differences in literacy rates among the states are also extreme. Kerala has the highest female literacy rate. On the other hand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have the lowest female literacy rates.

Also Read:Purnima Gupta of Nirantar on the dire need for women’s literacy in rural India

Reasons For Low Literacy Rates In India

Low female literacy is influenced by factors such as social, cultural, economic, educational, demographic, political and as well as administrative.

In India, families still think of girls as a burden. In rural areas, the enrolment rate of girls in primary education is low in comparison to urban areas. Moreover, when it comes to female dropout rates, there are various underlying conditions. Often, it is either household chores, taking care of siblings, family’s economic problems or early marriage which lead to girls dropping out of school.

Poor environment for girls such as lack of toilet facilities, pure drinking water, proper building and an inadequate number of teachers, especially female teachers also are factors influencing the dropout rate.

Gender Disparity

In an ASER 2019 report, released on 14 January 2020, it has been found that more boys are enrolled in private schools. The report, based on a survey conducted in 26 districts across 24 states in India covering over 36,000 children in the age group of 4-8 years, points out that more girls are enrolled in government pre-schools and schools while more boys dominate the enrolment in private schools.

For ages 4 to 5 years, against 56.8% of girls enrolled in government schools, there were only 50.4% boys. This was just the opposite in private institutions where against 49.6% of boys there were 43.2% girls for the children of the same age. Similarly, for age 6 to 8 years, some 61.1% of girls were enrolled in government schools against 52.1% boys. Whereas in private schools 47.9% of boys go to private schools against 39% of girls indicating that parents prefer private schools for boys and government schools for their daughters. These percentages depict the visible gender disparity.

Pandemic Scenario

The unprecedented situation which has been bestowed upon the entire world has created a huge divide in the society. The digital divide has given way to a more visible, more clearer gender divide. SheThePeople spoke with a few people to know what they think about the current situation.

Meera, a 37-year-old domestic help, has already made her 17-year-old daughter drop out of her school due to her family’s economic conditions and is planning to marry her off soon. She told SheThePeople, “We will marry her off soon so that we can be done with our responsibilities. We don’t know about our future, my husband is a rickshaw- dweller and I work as a maid in two houses. Due to the lockdown, we exhausted our savings and therefore we planned to stop our daughter’s education and decided to marry her off.”

Meera’s daughter Neha was admitted into a small school when she was 15-year-old. There are many girls like Neha, who have faced a similar situation.

What to expect in a post-pandemic world?

According to Deeksha Sharma, 19, “Pandemic will hit female literacy even harder.” She further told SheThePeople, “The financial losses and disappearing savings will severely impact all aspects of women’s lives. Women’s educational opportunities, their nutrition, and even their menstrual hygiene will all take a setback due to family’s increasing financial stress in low-income families.”

According to UN studies, many women would not be able to get an education post-pandemic due to early marriage, pregnancies and financial conditions. Acquisition of literacy not only involves educational costs but also travel costs and other expenses like books, stationery, gadgets (keeping in mind the online mode of learning), etc. The low-income families and those who have lost their sources of employment will naturally spend on the most basic things- food, shelter and clothing. Education and Women’s education specifically would become more distant land post-pandemic.

Is there a way to change it? We all need to think about it and do our bit before it is too late.

Also Read:Data Watch: India Remains Behind its Neighbours In Female Literacy

Sanskriti Tiwari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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