International Literacy Day takes place on September 8 annually to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and issues that the education system faces. It was established by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1966 and since then there have been major improvements when it comes to education and literacy rates. However, the large disparity in the literacy rate between men and women in India means that there is still work to be done. What is the cause behind this large literacy rate gap?
In India, the overall literacy rate is 74.04 percent and there is a huge disparity in the literacy rate between men and women. The literacy rate for men is 82.14 percent and the literacy rate for women is 65.46.
The significant gap in the literacy rate means that there are structural and societal issues that are impeding girls from getting the education they deserve. There was been an increase in the female literacy rate and the number of women who completed their school education.
The importance of literacy rate isn’t constricted only to education and schooling. Health literacy refers to a person’s ability to read and understand information which can help them make informed healthcare decisions and follow instructions for treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic not only negatively impacted women in education and the workforce but also revealed underlying issues regarding literacy, especially female literacy.
What’s Causing The Low Female Literacy Rate?
A UN report revealed that each additional year of schooling could increase a girl’s future earnings by up to 20 percent. However, the school dropout rates of young girls remain a concern. The commitment to education can lead to an increase in pay, which further leads to poverty prevention, better maternal health, reduction in violence against women, and lower child mortality.
Through quality education, girls can vastly improve their lives and can widen their horizons for the future. Education can help ensure gender equality, however, several hurdles have made it difficult for girls to continue their education.
Girls may enrol in school but after a certain age, some are forced to drop out. A total of 32.4 percent of girls aged 14 to 18 years old opt out of school due to ‘family constraints’.
The girls who continue their schooling also have to deal with household work and manage chores along with their education. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), almost 90 percent of girls are made to do household chores despite being enrolled in a school.
A lack of proper infrastructure and transformation facilities means that the school dropout rate is much higher among girls.
Female Literacy Rate, Education And Employment
While school dropouts are a major cause for concern, the battle is not over after women graduate. India leads in producing female STEM graduates at 43 percent, yet the number of women scientists, engineers, and technologists in research remains abysmal at 14 percent.
With so many qualified women in STEM, why is it still a largely male-dominated field? The improvements that education can cause are hampered if women are unable to find jobs with adequate pay.
Unfortunately, education is not the only field where women are pushed to the side, factors such as the gender wage gap, lack of facilities, and fear of societal judgement leave women struggling to succeed in male-dominated spaces.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, women faced the brunt of the unemployment crisis and the number of women with paid work faced a drastic drop. India’s female labour participation rate fell to 16.1 percent after the pandemic. According to World Bank estimates, India has the lowest labour force participation rate.
It’s clear that ensuring that women receive an education is only one step toward improving their quality of life. Government schemes that help promote education are making a large impact, but it’s imperative that the government and society continue to support women, even after they complete their education.
The views are the author’s own.
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