Menses, Marriage and Money forcing girls out of school

Pinkishe Foundation


“Every girl, no matter where she lives or her circumstance, has a right to learn. Every leader, no matter who he or she is or the resources available to him or her, has a duty to fulfil and protect this right.”    -Malala Yousafzai.

Education is a fundamental right according to the Constitution of India. Girls and boys have the same right to get an education. However, evidence demonstrates that gender disparities in education exist. More than 129 million girls around the world are out of school. Even in India that the stats are not favourable. UNICEF India report highlights an alarming rise in the dropout rates of girl students. 

Why are girls dropping out?

Early marriages and chores at home are the key reason for more girls dropping out than boys. The National Family Health Survey (2019-21) indicates that 13% of 21,800 girls who dropped out of school before 2019-20 did so because they were required at home for household chores. Another 7% did so because they were married off in child marriage. The urban-rural breakup shows that 17,786 were from rural areas, and the other 4065 were from urban areas.

Additionally, parents don’t want to invest their money in girls’ education because they believe girls anyway have to marry one day and do only household chores. It becomes problematic if a girl wishes to attain a secondary education since it is not free and accessible, unlike primary education. Due to existing cultural norms and beliefs, economically distressed families wish to free themselves from the liability of raising a girl child. 

Another critical reason for forcing girls out of school is menstruation. Menstruating women in India account for 30% of the population. Menstruation continues to be a crucial matter of gender disparity. Myths and taboos associated with menstruation force girls out of school. A report found that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually because of a lack of proper menstrual hygiene facilities and awareness of menstruation. It is also highlighted that 70% of the mothers considered the period dirty, and more than 71% of girls were unaware of menstruation until menarche. 

Data shows that cost of education is a critical factor when deciding whether girls should get an education. Nearly 21% of girls drop out for this reason only, while the number for boys remains at 16%. Girls with poor and rural backing are the most disadvantaged since their parents are less educated and thus value education less. In rural settings, girls are encouraged less to make their choices and are forced to manage homes or get married. There is also an excessive burden on girls to take care of the ill and elderly family members, affecting their chances and will to attend school. 

Girls education suffered the most during Covid-19  and in post pandemic scenario. Due to lockdowns and increased responsibilities at home, girls were given less time to engage in educational activities many were unable to access online education as the families' savings were spent on only the boy's education. 

Why should girls get an education?

Education is essential for girls to make informed choices. Educated girls can save lives and build strong families, societies and economies. Through education, girls can learn about their rights, have a great sense of right and wrong, and have far more opportunities to unlock their full potential. 

Globally, women are not part of the formal market. According to an International Labor Organization report, “Educating girls has proven to be one of the most important ways of breaking poverty cycles and is likely to have significant impacts on access to formal jobs in the longer term.” Educated girls could provide for increased productivity and economic growth in the country.

Educated women are better informed about the well-being of their children, decreasing the mortality of children below the age of 5 due to preventable diseases. Education tells women about the importance of sanitation, nutrition and immunisation. Hence education helps save lives.

Education can help produce more sustainable and smaller families contributing to a reduction in population growth. Educated girls have fewer pregnancies and know the right time to give birth, reducing the chance of teen pregnancy. Girls completing secondary education are integral in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS campaigns and boosting efforts to reduce its transfer from person to person. 

Way Forward

All girls and young women have the right to receive an education. It should be a priority of every society to bring about necessary changes in the societal belief system and thought processes which limit a girl’s access to education. What needs to be kept in mind is that girls’ education is not limited to sending girls to schools. It is also vital to ensure they feel safe and secure in school to prosper and achieve their potential. They should be allowed to complete all levels of education, acquire relevant complex knowledge, gain socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate a changing world, make their own life choices and contribute to society socially, economically, emotionally and politically. 

  1. What obstacles hinder girls' education?
    • Cultural norms, early marriages, household chores, and menstruation taboos are common obstacles.
  2. How does early marriage affect girls' schooling?
    • Early marriages force girls to drop out, denying them further education opportunities.
  3. What role do cultural norms play in limiting girls' education?
    • They prioritize boys' education and may stigmatize menstruation, affecting girls' school attendance.
  4. How do chores contribute to girls dropping out?
    • Chores leave little time for schoolwork, leading to fatigue and eventual dropout.
  5. What are menstruation taboos and their impact?
    • Taboos stigmatize menstruation, causing embarrassment and school absenteeism.
  6. Which socioeconomic factors worsen gender disparities?
    • Poverty, limited infrastructure, and gender bias in decision-making deepen disparities.
  7. How has COVID-19 impacted girls' education?
    • School closures and increased responsibilities at home have disproportionately affected girls.
  8. Why do families prioritize boys' education?
    • Deep-rooted gender norms lead to the belief that boys' education is a better investment.
  9. What are the long-term consequences of girls dropping out?
    • Poverty, early marriage, limited job opportunities, and poorer health outcomes are common.
  10. How can communities and governments promote equal access to education?
    • By implementing policies addressing cultural barriers, providing menstrual hygiene facilities, and investing in girls' education, they can create a more inclusive society.

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