8.1 million! That’s the number of children that drop out of school in India. Out of which 57% are girls. Most of these girls drop out of school because of financial reasons; difficulties faced during menstruation, early marriages, domestic chores or because of the mindset that educating a girl/woman would yield no return.
Among all these young women is the story of Anita, a 28-year-old woman full of spark and energy from Bangalore. Born in Bagepalli in rural Bangalore, her parents were farmers who earned a meagre 10,000 rupees annually by raising groundnuts. Anita was forced to quit her education when she was 18, and had barely completed class XII to work to supplement her family’s income.
In a culture that gives priority to a boy’s education instead of a girl’s, Anita was married off at the age of 21 to one of her relative’s son. That was when all her dreams came shattering down. “I always wanted to work towards women empowerment. I had a dream to put all my efforts into bringing equality and stability in lives of women. But the same could not happen when I had to leave school just after 2nd pre-university, (equivalent to class 12). Matters became worse after I was married, as more and more domestic as well as financial responsibilities dawned on me,.” said Anita with a sly smile on her face.
Domestic violence at the hands of her husband became an everyday event. “Beating started soon after our marriage. My husband, a car driver in a travel agency is a habitual alcoholic. Every time he comes home drunk, he beats me. It has now been 7 years since our wedding and I still get beaten by him almost every week.” she lamented.
In October 2018, Anita came across a community mobilizer from Smile Foundation who told her about STeP. She was intrigued by the free computer, English and personality development program that STeP offered and signed up for the same.
“I have been working at RMZ mall at an upmarket clothing store for past three months as a sales executive. All of 15000 rupees that I earn in a month belongs to me. I still stay with my husband but I feel more empowered now knowing that if things get completely out of hand someday, I can leave him without fear of not being able to fend for myself.” said Anita.
STeP’s four month course trained Anita in skills, crucial for most jobs in the modern world – computer, financial literacy and English speaking. “The course also helped me gain confidence as a woman and refine my personality. The classes on financial literacy were an added bonus. I don’t just earn but also know how to handle my finances more efficiently now.”
As per National Crime Records Bureau, every year over 90,000 cases of violence and cruelty by husbands and in-laws are reported by women in India. The actual number would be even higher since most cases go unreported.
Lack of adequate education, employability skills and support from family, leave women like Anita susceptible to domestic violence. That is why it is imperative to empower every woman with enough skills so that they never have to depend on anyone, especially financially.
According to UN Women, when more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes. A 2018 study by International Monetary Fund titled Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment shows, increasing the female employment rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to match that of Sweden, could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion. Another 2016, research shows that gender gaps cost the economy some 15 percent of GDP.
In a rapidly evolving world, women equality and empowerment must be given priority not just through initiatives by governments and non-profits but also individual efforts. A girl is no less deserving of education and efficient at fulfilling their dreams than a boy, if given the right opportunities.