How Education Helps Empower Women

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“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that a peasant’s daughter can become a doctor. – Nelson Mandela.

Using education for social empowerment

When Abha decided to stick to her dream of completing her education, facing all obstacles head-on, she didn’t know much about Nelson Mandela, and she wasn’t doing it just for self-development. It was simply because she had already seen how it worked – how education could help her find a decent job, earn some decent money, just to help her parents lead a decent life.

Abha Kumari. (Image provided by the author)

Supported by JJBVK, a local non-profit organization in Samastipur, Bihar, supported by CRY – Child Rights and You, the girl managed to convince her parents to let her continue her studies and not give in to societal pressure from marry her out of abject poverty.

Today, as she wears her khaki uniform to introduce herself to the Bihar Police as a constable, everyone around her looks on with pride. Abha single-handedly changed her family’s destiny.

Years ago, her parents, a day laborer and housewife, wondered if they were making the right choice by giving in to their daughter’s dream of continuing her education, despite their socio-economic condition. Little did they know how simple yet groundbreaking the decision their daughter had made.

The role of education in empowering women

Kofi Annan put it very simply when he said: “Educating girls is reducing poverty. And in that simple sentence lies a whole depth of truth. We know how reducing poverty can lead to solving a myriad of societal problems. This is why, at CRY, we sincerely believe that girls’ education is the main key to changing the gender discourse in India.

CRY has seen the big picture through its journey of working with children’s rights for over three decades.

The discourse on gender equality and the importance of girls having equal opportunities, with a life free from discrimination and violence, has steadily grown in importance.

The genesis of this dialogue is rooted in giving girls equal access to education and a safe and healthy environment in school premises so that they stay in school. While enrollment has improved remarkably in India, it is imperative to universalize access and retention to ensure that girls do not drop out somewhere in the middle and stay in school until they finish their studies.

Education improves critical thinking, thereby developing more complex skills. Schools don’t just promote learning from books; they are also sites for socializing, sports, developing self-confidence and leadership skills.

It has been proven time and time again that when a girl realizes her potential through supportive conditions, she will often pay to create an environment that is conducive for more girls like her, creating a ripple effect. Ask me and I can show you hundreds of such stories from our service areas.

Working for children’s rights and women’s empowerment

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Sheetal (left) congratulated at an NCC event. (Image provided by the author)

Hailing from the slums of Jahangirpuri, Delhi, Sheetal is a national kickboxing champion. When the Saksham Project believed in her dreams and helped her pursue them, Sheetal, for her part, dove headfirst into working for children’s rights. She led an anti-alcohol campaign, persuaded a scavenger to go to school, and solved a drinking water crisis in her neighborhood.

Sheetal won the gold medal at the Open Delhi Kick Boxing Championship in 2017 and gradually ventured into the national level championships, winning the gold medal at the 7th National Rural Games organized by the Rural Games Federation of India the same year.

Today, Sheetal is a Bachelor of Arts student and continues her training as an NCC Cadet. She aims to empower women by helping them find the courage to stand up against a regressive mindset. The biggest insight she gained through education is that the only way to defeat a demon is to confront it.

Using self-defense as a tool for empowerment

For Lakshmi, from CRY’s project area in Taratala, Kolkata, however, sports has a completely different definition. She admits that she was afraid to walk the dark alleys of her neighborhood for fear of being harassed and teased. She remembers how this fear made her feel shy and weak. However, going to school regularly and understanding that she had the right to feel safe helped her get rid of this fear.

Lakshmi
Lakshmi during a training session. (Image provided by the author)

“Now that I am a black belt in karate, I want to teach self-defense techniques to other girls in my community so that they are not afraid to walk alone in dark alleys. , there is courage, confidence and skill. We just have to use our forces correctly to protect ourselves and defeat the attackers,” said the 15 year old.

The only importance of education for girls lies in raising awareness of the importance of girls.

When girls stay in school to complete high school, the impact is exaggerated – lower fertility rates, reduced teenage pregnancies, well-planned and, therefore, healthier motherhood, lower rates of domestic violence, and an amplified voice women in decision-making, including financial matters within the family, thus closing the gender gap.

And in the Indian context alone, estimates suggest that advancing women’s equality has the potential to improve GDP by $770 billion by 2025 (McKinsey & Company, 2018).

In closing, let’s echo Michelle Obama, who summed it up best – “When women are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous. By creating the women of tomorrow who will participate more, not only in the labor market, but also in the growth and development of the nation, education is a game-changer.

No other observation can be closer to the truth.

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