Girls' right to education

Girls’ right to education: A study of selected slums of Kolkata

The girl child is a critical agent in any society. The care given to her as a child and adolescent, to her health and nutrition, education and economic potential determines her women empowerment, and thus of the future generation, of both men and women (Anand and Yadav, 2006).

Discourses in gender and development, and the role of women in development in developing and less-developed countries have been instrumental in promoting women education and shaping notions of social justice (Sur, 2004). Over the last decade, it has been well documented that major milestones have been reached in the realm of literacy and primary women education. However, quantitative indicators reveal that despite best efforts, gender disparities persist in comparative women educational indicators for girls, especially in the rural areas and among the disadvantaged groups. The disparity is acuter in the enrolment and participation of girls from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), especially at the upper primary level. Presently female literacy levels remain considerably lower than male literacy levels (Dutt, 2010). Till almost the mid-1980s, apart from counting the number of boys and girls enrolled at different levels, very little was done to assess or understand the gender and equity dimensions of women educational participation. The National Policy of Education (1986) could, in many ways, be taken as an important step towards articulating social equity and gender issues at the policy level (Ramachandran, 2012). Money spent on women education – if it is conceptualized as an economic investment – is regarded as better spent on boys/men than on girls/women. In conditions of scarcity, this will lower girls’ relative chances of being educated (Robeyns, 2006).

The census data of 2011 has revealed that a positive trend in female literacy rate as it reached 66.57 percent from 59.61 percent in 2001. According to the Primary Census Abstract for Slum- 2011, West Bengal’s share of slum population is 9.8%, in 2011, to the total slum population in India while the figure was 8,9% in 2001. The state of West Bengal has occupied a 4th rank in 2011 for the number of households existed in her slums. The states like Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu occupied 1st 2nd and 3rd rank respectively. Further, the existing number of slum population in West Bengal earned her 3rd position in the country while Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh placed in 1st and 2nd position respectively (Census of India, 2013). The literacy rate in slums too has gone up to 77.7% compared to the overall urban literacy of over 83.7%. The jump in female literacy in slums (from 63.2% to 71.2%) is higher than the increase in male literacy from 80.1% to 83.7%. However, literacy rate is lower than 70% in slums in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir (The Economic Times, 2013).

In Kolkata, slums were a fixture of colonial Kolkata prior to industrialization, but their sustaining pattern of permanent existence and growth took shape as industries of Kolkata demanded for labor. After the middle 19th century, the slum population rapidly accelerated as rural migrants flocked to Kolkata to work with new industries. The Factories did not provide housing which inevitably led to the establishment of slums as close as possible to the factories (Ghosh, 2013). The low-paid occupation and inadequate income of slum dwellers reflect their difficult conditions under which they have to survive in the slums and squatter settlements of the city apart of their income and occupation their poor or kaccha housing quality which is generally made up of mud, wood tin and plastic sheets, poor and dirty environment of living , lack of basic services like drinking water, electricity, drainage, sewerage, road etc, high rate of dependency, early marriage, child marriage, lack of women education and awareness about development programmes, lack of nutritious food, poor health their bad habits of drinking, smoking, gambling etc, high rate of crime reveal poverty among slum dwellers of city (Srivastava, 2013).



Literacy Rate
2001 2011
Slum 80.1 83.7
1 Male 63.2 71.2
2 Female
Urban (Slum reported towns) 86.5 89
3 Male 73.7 79.7
4 Female

Source: Census of India, 2011

Summing up, Table 1 depicts that literacy rate of slums are lower than that of urban areas reported with slums.


Further, the female literacy rate is constantly lower than that of male literacy rate in both the categories and censuses. Considering the fact it could be said that gender disparity in educational attainment do exists in our country and slums are the no different place. The girls in Indian slums do faces multiple challenges that tend to keep them away from their studies of which income and economic aspect remains the important one.

Findings of the Study of Women Education in Selected Slums of Kolkata

There are a number of factors that are hindering the educational right of girls in Slums of Topsia and Mallik-para. The factors are basically socio-cultural in nature that is further aggravated with the economic condition of the dwellers.

Socio-cultural factors of women education

  • Early marriage of girls

Early marriage of girls is one of the major factors that hinder their educational attainment. According to a study conducted by Mr. Biswajit Ghosh in a rural area of Malda district, a found that the rate (field estimate) of early marriage is more than 80 per cent and also found a strong relationship between child marriage and caste/community background (Ghosh, 2011).Further “State of the World’s Children report 2012” released by UNICEF shows that almost 22%women in India now aged between 20 and 24 years gave birth to a child before they were 18 years. Almost 45 among every 1000 children are born to mothers in the age group of 15-19 years (UNICEF). Although early marriage is a factor that come in between the girls and their educational attainment but it is the result or end product of socio-cultural belief system of the selected community. The underlying factors that prompt parents to arrange early marriage for their young daughters are as follows:

  1. The bridegroom always looks for younger girls to marry and thus delaying the marriage would put the parents of the bride in difficulty to find a suitable match for their daughter.
  2. Parents also believe that if they would delay the marriage of their girls then they may develop a relationship with a boy of different caste or religion and thus would earn a bad name for the family. The an anticipated particular act of girl would also trouble the marriage of their younger siblings.
  3. Early marriage of girls would mean payment of less dowry because there is a demand for a younger bride. In other words, growing age of the girls would result in payment of more dowries.
  4. The search for suitable bridegroom starts early in both the communities. According to Mrs Parvati Mallick, a resident of Mallik Para, said that her daughter got married at the age of 19 years while the search for suitable association was started once her daughter reached the age of 14-15 years \ But she also added that if the suitable association is found early then the respective parents won’t mind to get their girls married before the age 18 years. Thus, the early finding of a suitable match for the girl would also result into an early marriage of girls.
  • Involvement in household chores

Girls do not attend school as they remain engaged in household chores, particularly sibling care and boys are involved in wage-earning activities. Marginalisation of these groups seems to continue in a vicious circle and it is experienced that a low level of women education is both the cause and manifestation of backwardness of marginalised groups, especially those with a low income making them more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion from the mainstream development process generation after generation (Bandyopadhyay, 2006). The situation of girls in both the slums was same. In both the communities, minor girls are found to be active with household activities. The activities include cooking, taking care of their siblings, and washing clothes of another family member including their own. According to Nazira Biwi, a resident of Topsia slum, early an introduction into household chores would prepare the girls for the life after marriage because in-laws would expect the girl to do domestic chores by her own.

  • Indifferent attitude of parents towards girls’ education

Parental attitude towards women education plays a key role in the educational attainment of children. Lack of motivation is a cause of educational deprivation and probably the most contentious and complex. As the issues involved range from the purely economic to broader social and cultural considerations, such as those affecting women education and marriage (Bhatty, 1998). In both the locations parents were of the view that children must study and, in fact, they want them to study well but when it comes to the women education of their daughters they put a certain limit to it. The revelations made by the parents during FGDs are as follows:

  1. If the girls would study more then they won’t be able to adjust with their in-laws. Because parents were of the view that girls need to study but up to a certain level that may be from 6th to 8th or maximum up to 9th standard and not beyond that as they believe if girls would study more they would become stubborn.
  2. The educated girls may also develop a desire for a lifestyle that would be beyond the economic capacity of the groom to manage and finally would bring chaos to the family
  3. Female participants of the FGDs were of the view that if the girl would study more then they would not do the daily household chore which is an important aspect for the smooth running of the family.

Economic factors of women education

The poor economic condition of the inhabitant families were found to be a crucial factor which is hindering the women education in both the slums. Out of economic necessity many parents, mothers, opt to take their girls along with them in the houses where they work as domestic help. Mother takes their girls to workplaces with a view to maximise their number of the client as they would require less time in each of the houses. Further, after a period of six to eight moths girls would become familiar to the clientele households and can work as an alternative to her mother if her mother fall sick or in other circumstances where she (mother) may fail to work so that family income should get stopped and the job could be sustained.

Again, in the slum of Topsia women were found to be busy in cutting the rubber strap for chappals, provided by the local manufacturer. Girls are often involved in this activity when they are not doing any other activity.

Performing household chores by the girls also have an economic connotation. The involvement of girls in household activity help their parents to maximise their time span for economic activity and also allow them to relax after a day’s work. Now the question arises that why boys are not entrusted with these household activities. The answer to the query was that boys are also engaged in economic activity but outside the home and most importantly it depends on their wish whether they want to work or not.

According to Ms. Jabeen Arif4 majority of the children in the community drop-out by the age of 10-11 years and get engaged in economic activities. Parents are also reluctant about the women education and want them to support the family income.

Conclusion of the Study of Women Education in Selected Slums of Kolkata

The present study revealed that there are mainly three factors that are coming in between girls and their educational attainment namely Social, Cultural and Economic. According to Mr. Deep Lai Mallick, it is the attitude and outlook of the parents that decides the fate of educational attainment of the children. Attitude and outlook of the parents in both the localities could be viewed as an attribute of their socio-cultural system which is further exaggerated by the economically challenged situation of the families.

Early marriage of the girls is one of the leading factors that hinder their educational attainment most. According to 2001 Census, 37.16 percent of the girls in the state have got married before eighteen in between 1996 and 2001, while the corresponding figure for the country, as a whole, is 32.10 percent only. While NFHS-3 data reveal that there is a rise in under-eighteen marriages of women in the state from 45.9 per cent during 1998-99 (NFHS-2) to 53.3 per cent during 2005-06 (NFHS-3) (One India News, 2007).

Again involvement of girls into household chore also has a socio-cultural and economic implication. Girls are involved in domestic activities so that they could achieve expertise in daily household chores and at the same time, it would allow their parents or earning members of the family to relax after a day of hard labour and to prepare for the next day.

Parental attitude towards women education is also influenced by the three main factors as well. It is the economic condition of the family that does not allow their girls’ to study and that is further complemented by difficulty in finding a suitable groom for educated girls. Thus, besides planning for the educational attainment of the girls in both the locality effort must be given to break the interaction between the three factors. Pro-active participation of members of urban local self-government and community leaders would be of help in this regard and that could be achieved by sensitizing them about the issues. In addition, parents and adolescent girls along with youths of the community need to be sensitized about gender-related issues. Further basic amenities like toilets, bathroom and proper drainage system are also needed to be installed in the communities as women and girls suffer from many water-borne diseases, as shared during FGDs.

Summing-up, in countries like India, where overpopulation is a major hindrance to growth; slums crop up in the vicinity of urban settlements within days. It is a vicious circle of rural poverty leading to migration in cities in search of a job, non-availability of respectable full-time employment hence poverty leading to these migrants building a temporary shelter for themselves and later many of them following and using the vacant public space for building shanties and settling down. This further perpetuates poverty (Sawhney, 2013). Children and women are the most vulnerable in these communities and minor girls constitute the most vulnerable group. They are susceptible to gender-based discrimination, sexual abuse, malnutrition, domestic violence and so on. Their fight for life always had to meet one or the other hurdle. In achieving their right to women education, they also encounter the ill practice of gender-based discrimination that pops-out from socio-cultural system prevailing in their respective communities. The deplorable condition of girls in slums of Kolkata demands a pro-active participation of civil society bodies.

Girls’ right to education: A study of selected slums of Kolkata
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