Education levels offer one of the starkest examples of gender discrimination in India – effective literacy rates (age 7 and above) in 2011 were 82.14% for men and 65.46% for women.
Women’s empowerment cannot be achieved without commitment to the education of the girl child. UNICEF points out that even basic education can empower greatly, enabling girls to exercise greater choice over their lives – for instance, educated women are likely to marry at a later age and have fewer children. Importantly, the children of an educated mother are more likely to survive. In India, the infant mortality rate for mothers with a primary education is half that of children whose mothers are illiterate. This is a critical statistic in a country where the girl child aged 1 to 5 years is 75% more likely to die than a boy, making it the deadliest place in the world for the former.
UNICEF data shows that between 1970 and 1992, primary and secondary enrollment for girls in developing countries rose from 38% to 68%, with East Asia (83%) and Latin America (87%) leading the charge. In the least developed countries, however, enrollment rates average 47% at the primary level and 12% at the secondary level.
While India can boast of significantly ramping up primary school enrollment, the fact is that a large number of students drop out. This is particularly true of girls. In my home state of Maharashtra, in 2013 more than 14% of female students between the ages of 7 and 16 dropped out of school; in 2012, the number was 11.7%.
India, it seems, has legislated education as a right but doesn’t have the ability to deliver where it counts.