Prior to saying anything, let me first tell you a story about 3 girls: Priya, Vidya and Kalki, born at the same time but growing up in completely different environments. Priya belongs to a very poor family and her parents are uneducated. Vidya belongs to a family in which her father is educated but mother isn’t. Kalki belongs to a family in which both of her parents are educated. The 3 girls are in no way related to each other.
Timeline of their life events:
Priya: Gets no education. Her family is so poor that they can afford education only to one of their kids. Parents choose to educate their younger son over their elder daughter because they think it is the boy who will take care of them during their last days. Most importantly, they think that the girl is just a burden to the family and would be married away quickly, so no use in educating the girl.
Vidya and Kalki: Get primary education.
All 3 girls are sexually assaulted by someone they know and they all react the same way. They are ashamed thinking it is their fault and are scared to tell their parents or anyone else. The girl who is assaulted, even though she is a victim, is treated as if the fault is hers. Like it or not, we are living in a society that treats murderers better than sexually assaulted victims. The society would say to the girl: “It is your fault, we are ashamed of you. You don’t have a life anymore.” No wonder the girls are scared to open up. The society would treat them as if they “asked for it”.
All 3 girls have attained puberty.
Priya: Immediately married.
Vidya: Vidya’s parents choose to educate her until high school because of the law – CHILD MARRIAGE IS ILLEGAL and the RIGHT TO EDUCATION. Glad to know that some parents are aware of the law and in fact, even more pleased because they choose to respect it.
Kalki: Continues her education. Parents support her completely.
Priya: Has a kid. The worst part is that, Priya herself is immatured for her age and doesn’t know how to handle a baby. She is unaware of the problems that arise due to early pregnancy and also she is not aware of how to take care of her child properly. She is also instructed by her parents that she has to satisfy her husband’s every whim whether she is able to or not, whether she is willing or unwilling which leads her to have a second baby.
Vidya: Her parents, as they see their daughter shaping up well because of education, choose to continue her education.
Kalki: Her parents never think of curbing her education. Hats off!
Remember one thing: Since the age of 9, these girls have always been having fears and nightmares of the sexual abuse they faced as a kid. That particular incident haunts them almost every day. Actually, even worse, the girls start blaming themselves for what happened. Unable to bear the frustration, Priya opens up to her husband, Vidya opens up to her parents and her future husband and Kalki opens up to her parents and boyfriend.
Priya: Her husband thinks of her as damaged goods and starts physically abusing her. She faces physical torture every single day. Treating a victim of physical abuse by further abusing her? Wow! She doesn’t know how to reach out for help. She is both physically and mentally weak and her children are not getting the necessary care which results in the death of one of her kids.
Vidya: She has graduated from college and gets married. But you know what? There is this funny thing – even though she is educated, somehow, because of the people around her, she thinks she has to be submissive to her husband. If her husband abuses her, she knows that she can reach out for help but she is scared to, because she is scared that the society might criticize her. Added to it, she feels obliged to him because she herself feels that the sexual assault was her fault.
Kalki: Her parents are completely understanding her situation but her boyfriend starts abusing her. She is heart broken that her boyfriend is not with her during this rough phase of life. But Kalki’s parents are so amazing that they try to make her understand that it was not her fault. Her parents encourage her to study further or choose to work in a field of her choice.
Priya: Commits suicide unable to bear the torture.
Vidya: Starts to live like a slave accepting everything as fate and starts believing that her life is not in her control anymore.
Kalki: Her boyfriend continues to physically abuse her but she realizes that there is a way out. She ends her relationship with him. She chooses to take control of her life. She chooses to live as an independent woman. She chooses to inspire other women to do the same. She chooses to help for the education of girls in every possible way.
Now you might be wondering who this Kalki is. Surprisingly, there are many such women. There might be women very next to you who would have endured the same, fighting the nightmares every single day to lead a happy life and trying to make a meaning out of their life. It makes me happy to know that there are many women like Kalki. But the sad thing though is that, there are 62 million girls worldwide similar to Priya. That’s right! Those girls have never stepped into a school.
The major reasons for female illiteracy are cost of education, distance to school, safety issues, gender bias, early marriage and pregnancy. People fail to realize that giving girls proper education is infact less expensive than taking care of an uneducated girl. Educating girls is good for everyone in the society including the economy of the country. 1% increase in women’s secondary education can boost a country’s per capita income growth rate by 0.3%. Each extra year of primary education beyond the mean increases eventual wages 10-20% reducing poverty. Girls with higher than 7th grade education marry an average of 4 years later reducing the number of child marriages. A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. Thus girls’ education reduces infant mortality, maternal mortality and fertility rates. It also helps to lessen HIV/AIDS. Education also helps girls to fight when they are approached by sexual predators. Educated girls are the only ones who can realize that sexual assault doesn’t mean the end of life. Forever girls have been told, virginity is greater than life. Sadly, victims of sexual assault do feel the same way. Only the educated ones can realize that
“Purity doesn’t lie in the vagina”
– quoted by Kalki Koechlin in an interview
Are you now going to ask – “I know that the society is filled with bad ideas like these, but what do I do?”
- Contribute money to support kids’ education
- If you have a victim of sexual abuse around you, for heaven’s sake don’t treat them differently. Never ask the details or curse them for what happened. Such girls crave for just love and affection, not for sympathy and pity. Ill-treating victims of the assault is actually worse than the assault itself.
- People in rural areas do not have exposure. Try to create awareness or help people who are already doing that.
You don’t even have to do anything on a bigger scale. Even if you convince one person to educate his/her daughter, then it would pass on to subsequent generations. Never ever say: “She is a girl, education is not as important to her as it is for a boy”. Education is the sole lifeline. In a patriarchal society, education alone can help a woman pull herself together at any point. People who propagate the belief that “GIRLS BELONG IN THE KITCHEN” are complete male chauvinists and nothing else. For those who justify this belief as “CUSTOM OR TRADITION”, I have absolutely no words for you. If not for education, we can never put an end to this patriarchal society.
Ending with a shocking news that happened very recently:
In July 2015, an unelected all-male village council in Baghpat, northern India, decreed that two sisters would be raped and paraded naked with their faces blackened, as punishment for their brother’s relationship with a married woman.(https://www.amnesty.org.uk/india-dalit-sisters-protection-raped-punishment-brothers-crime)
This is the world we all live in. I do not feel even a tiny bit happy for living in such a world.