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Gender Disparities in Education
Gender disparities in education raise many questions for governments and civil societies. There are many factors that contribute to the gender gap in education. In India gender disparities persist in the enrollment rates between boys and girls at all levels.

Gender inequality has become a major issue in India in the recent years. I identify and analyze various factors that cause gender inequality in education that requires some policy implications to solve the gender related problems in the country.

The restrictive effect of traditional sex roles, socialization in the family has its parallel in educational practices in educational institutions traditionally. Most educational fields remain sex typed, a phenomenon that compounds the occupational stratification by sex.

Further, sex biased educational practices, differential curricula and text books perpetuate the traditional division of labour between sexes. This limits not only the range of occupations chosen by women but also lands them in low ranking occupations corresponding to their assisting roles in the household.

Thus traditionally education has contributed to educational and occupational stratification between the sexes by encouraging and preparing girls to pursue an extremely limited number of traditionally feminine roles. High level of sex segregation exists in the work force and women enter a limited number of feminine sex stereotyped occupations, which are also low in status.

The lives of girls and women continue to be controlled by the patriarchal belief systems and structures, which use prescriptions and proscriptions to keep women in their place. All decisions are taken by men and all assets are owned by them. The process of gender discrimination begins even before birth and continues throughout the life of a female.

Besides women and girls do more work than males but get much less than their legitimate share in food, health, education and training. The traditional socialization practices of a society with a marked son preference are highly discriminatory to the girl child not only in matters of food, health care, education and play but also succeed in making her believe that she is inferior and less competent than her male counterparts.

UNESCO Education For All (EFA) report on the elimination of gender disparities in Enrollments raise many questions for governments and civil societies in developing countries (Douglas, 1992). It is reported that 57 per cent of the estimated 104 million children in the 5-10 years age group who are out of school worldwide are believed to be girls.

The enrollment of girls in many countries is only three-fourths that of boys. Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 and ensuring gender equality by 2015(Rena, 2005a:8). The report cautions that the 2015deadline for achieving 50 per cent improvement in adult literacy and universal primary education may remain a dream for one-third of the world's population.

Dakar Framework of Action was adopted by the 164 governments from around the world at the World Education Forum in 2000 at Senegal. These nations committed themselves to putting in place policies to facilitate these goals. It was also assured by the international community that resources would not be a constraint. But the UNESCO Education For All (EFA) report notes that aid flows have been disappointingly low in recent years.

Paradoxically, this comes at a time when the accent on primary education has been high on the agenda of many developing countries. The gender inequality is indeed prevalent in many developing countries like India. However, the persistence of this gender inequality in the arena of children's education must not be treated as inevitable.

Further, a report by Global Crisis Solution Center says that some two-thirds of the 130 million children in the world who do not go to school are girls. This means that about 86.7 million girls are out of school. the number of girls out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa rose over the last decade from 20 million in 1990 to 24 million in 2002, says an  UNICEF report.

Different studies on Women and girls education shows that that educational backwardness of girls is not only a reason a of religion or demography, but a reflection of the socio-economic status of a community, in a certain region or state. The alarmingly high dropout rate of girls after secondary school owes to several factors including gender disparity, poverty, and lack of separate girls’ schools, early marriage and community resistance.

Another major difficulty is the problem of finding appropriate husbands for highly educated girls. Considerable opposition to co-education exists, as parents feel this might lead girls astray. Many families tend to withdraw their girls from education after high school for fear of girls’ safety, especially if colleges are located far from their homes While all teachers and parents believe in the importance of girls’ education but the Muslim Madarsa teachers stress that the ideal education that Muslim girls should receive is religious, plus modicum of general subjects that can enable them to become good house wives.

There is disappointment, particularly among Muslims regarding the failure of various government-funded schemes ostensibly meant for minority education as well as the routine harassment that Muslim educational institutions seeking recognition and grants-in-aid are subjected to in many states. Religious leaders do not see any use for giving formal education to girls and who feel that Dini Taleem (Religious Education) is enough for girls.

It is observed that the persistent denial of equal opportunity of education to the girls of our country is due to religious, traditional and cultural beliefs and attitudes. Cultural stigmas promote negative attitudes and habits in men and women that pass from the generation-to-generation and family to the work place.

Furthermore, it is not compatible to the policy of the GOI that clearly stipulates equal opportunities of education and employment to both men and women. Indeed, inequality retards the advancement of women as well as the progress and development of a nation. The emancipation of women and the achievement of equality between men and women are essential to India’s development and the transformation of its citizens.

The elimination of discrimination against women is a social, political and moral imperative that must ultimately reshape existing economic, social and cultural arrangements. Promoting the entry of greater numbers of women into education and training as well as positions of prominence and authority is of paramount importance in the country.

It is a responsibility of every citizen, parents, as well as the community and different institutions to play due role in alleviating the problems specifically hindering girls from schooling. In addition the Ministry of Education, Ministry of HRD and Women Commission should take on panel some of the emerging issues in gender inequality in education and provide the basis for an action plan. This kind of action plan can minimize the gender disparity for the better future of girls.

(Dr. Azra Abidi is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi)

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