In Pursuit of Equality
In many places of the world, the pursuit of education poses more obstacles for girls than for boys. Education resources are not always distributed equitably, especially when they are scarce. Poor families usually choose to invest in boys’ education while relying on girls to help with household chores. In rural areas, schools often lack adequate infrastructure to create a safe and inclusive environment - many schools are in need of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, perimeter fences, and even sufficient lighting, all of which lead to higher risks for girls to fall victim of sexual harassment and abuse. Adolescent pregnancies and child marriage further create a critical challenge: girls who become pregnant or marry young are much more likely to drop out of school early and not return.
According to UNESCO estimates, there are 132 million girls out of school around the world. Studies done by UNICEF consistently show that girls who face multiple disadvantages, such as low family income, living in remote or underserved locations, who have a disability, or belong to a minority ethno-linguistic group, are farthest behind in terms of access to and completion of education.
However, investing in girls’ education has been proven as one of the most effective ways to boost economic and social development. When a girl receives an education, she is not only led to greater life prospects, but also empowered to lift her family out of poverty and transform her community. UNICEF estimates that every additional year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 - 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school by 15 - 25 percent. According to the World Bank, better educated women “tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.”
Therefore, girls’ education has become a strategic priority for global aid agencies and local development NGOs alike. In India, where the population approached 1.4 billion in 2020, tens of millions of girls are still out of school. New initiatives have been evolving throughout the country to bring girls back to school and keep them there. Bloom and Give, a social enterprise that supports girls’ education in India, leverages the country’s rich textile heritage to fund programs for hundreds of underprivileged girls. From the misty mountaintops of Nagaland to the backwaters of Kerala, Partha and Madhu, the founders of Bloom and Give, search for refined textile artistry to showcase in their home and accessories collections. 50% of their profits are given to non-profit organizations, innovative schools, or in some rare cases, inspirational individuals that are reshaping the landscape of education for the future generations.
In rural Rajasthan, where many of our artisan weavers and block printing experts are based, only 1 in every 100 girls completes high school. Bloom and Give currently provides funding for 4 NGOs in this region to assist out-of-school girls re-enter the education system, or to offer them alternative learning opportunities. When the founders and their team visited these learning centers, students shared their stories.
Pali belongs to a goat-herding community in rural Rajasthan. At the age of 14, she became widowed when her husband died in an accident. Fast forward to today, 18-year-old Pali is the only one in her community that can read or write, and is on her way to become the first one to complete high school. Her sights are set for college.
“Like many of our girls, my parents got me married when I was 10. With that, my dream of studying all the way through college ended.” Pali stayed at home to look after her family’s herd of goats and cows while her parents were waiting for her to turn 16 and move to her husband’s house. However, her husband passed away before that could happen. “So there I was, widowed at 14, with no real home, and entirely dependent on my parents and my in-laws to support me,” Pali continued. She decided to join a residential camp called Doosra Dashak (meaning the second decade, as in the second decade of a child’s life), where she, together with about 50 other adolescent girls who also dropped out of school for various reasons, sat in a classroom and picked up their textbooks again.
“I’m going to…study, find employment and be independent. I want to work hard at this camp and make up for all the years I’ve missed. When I’m done here, I’ll enroll for 10th grade examinations. Then 12th. Then college.”
15-year-old Nisha is a volunteer at her local community learning center. Being one of the nearly 150 teenage girls living in Samrathpura, a small village in Rajasthan, Nisha is also one of the few from her village to be in school. Not too long ago, she was still a school drop-out, because her parents pulled her out of school after the 5th grade to have her help with household chores and tend the fields. She remained home for three years, never stopped trying to convince her parents to let her go back to school. When she heard about the 4-month residential boot camp run by Doosra Dashak near her village, she managed to enroll herself, and spent long days and weekends studying there. Upon completion of the courses, she passed all the tests to go back in the 10th grade, and now she aspires to study science in college.
Nisha is a pivotal role model that younger girls from her village look up to. She will inspire many of them to stay in school and persist through college. College seems to be a lofty ambition in Nisha’s mind. After all, no one in her village has ever been to college. But this time, we are betting Nisha gets there.
Words: MINZUU Photos: BLOOM AND GIVE