Education provides a gateway to social equality and is a critical human right. Schooling can enable young girls to transcend economic and gender barriers, improving their quality of life, offering them independence and transforming the opportunities that are available to them. As a country with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, India has roughly 3 million girls who are not enrolled in schools.
Founded in 2007, the Mumbai-based nonprofit Educate Girls is tackling gender disparities by reforming school systems in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and putting more children in the classroom. Educate Girls was founded in 2007 by Safeena Husain, a graduate of the London School of Economics, with the hope of alleviating poverty and strengthening the condition of young women by giving girls positive learning experiences.
In Rajasthan, only 52.66 percent of females are literate, while 350,000 are not in school. The organization aims to bring quality education to around 2.5 million children annually by 2018. Educate Girls has since developed from a 500-school pilot project and presently has interventions in over 21,000 institutions in underserved regions of India. By mobilizing community and government resources, the program seeks to address the tremendous obstacles that girls in rural districts face.
One of the impediments that girls face in accessing education includes patriarchal societal norms, which consist of gender bias and practices such as child marriage. In India, 47 percent of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. Many are expected to help their families by working in the fields or tending to younger children in the household, rather than going to school. Some parents have expressed cultural concerns, such as a fear that if girls enroll in school, they may choose not to wear traditional clothing or participate in traditional marriages.
Educate Girls strives to create community ownership through a series of measures that increase enrollment and retention as well as change learning outcomes. The NGO works through Team Balika, volunteers who actively promote girls’ education. Members spread awareness in villages and also provide support to children in school. Team Balika volunteers are trained to use a creative learning curriculum which brings activity-based learning to students. The organization also holds door-to-door meetings with parents to convince them to send their girls to school.
Educate Girls supports school administrations by electing a School Management Committee that generates improvement plans and school assessments. Finally, the program coordinates the election of girl leaders who serve as councilmembers, helping them to build a voice within their communities.
In recent years, India has made progress in improving the education of its citizens. In 2009, the Parliament of India passed The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, making education a fundamental right to children ages six to 14. In 2014, Educate Girls created the world’s first Development Impact Bond, through which an outcome payer will pay back an investor as long as Educate Girls reaches its targets.
Today, the organization receives support from corporations such as Cartier, Vodafone and Deutsche Bank and will be scaling to include 16 districts within its reach. While there is still much headway that the country must make in its path to gender equality, Educate Girls is taking great strides by championing the learning and development of India’s girls, particularly in rural villages. By addressing the situation in some of the nation’s most poverty-stricken and remote communities, Educate Girls is improving the growth and livelihood of a new generation of young women, paving the way for social change.
– Shira Laucharoen