Break the cycle of violence and poverty – make education safe for girls

Article Date

24 November 2015

Article Author

Priya Das

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Today marks the first day of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence (GBV). During these 16 days, we join with other organizations around the world in calling attention the myriad implications of gender-based violence on the lives of women and girls. We know that GBV is often manifested in quotidian ways, is cloaked in socio-cultural norms and knows no cultural boundaries or restrictions. It silently snuffs access to basic opportunities, including the right to education, mobility and freedom.

Violence against women in public spaces has far reaching implications on the lives of young girl, stymying their prospects of living their full developmental potential. Evidence of this can be clearly seen from a recent study ICRW conducted in Haryana, a state in northern India.

The study evaluates a conditional cash transfer program called Apni Beti Apna Dhan (Our Daughters, Our Wealth) or “ABAD”, which was implemented by the Government of Haryana between 1994 and 1998. The program sought to enhance the value of girls throughout the state and was initiated in response to a high adverse sex ratio and the perceived low value of women and girls, which was evident in the prevailing high rates of child marriage. Targeting girls from poor and socially disadvantaged households, the program offered a savings bond of Rs. 2,500 to an eligible girl within three months of her birth, which she could redeem at age 18 on only one condition: that she remain unmarried.

The first cohort of girls enrolled in the program turned 18 in 2012, offering ICRW the unique opportunity to evaluate the impact of the program, assessing two main outcomes: delayed marriage and educational attainment.

ICRW found that the program had no additional impact on delaying marriage aside from the overall trend of girls marrying later in Haryana. In terms of educational outcomes, we found that girls enrolled in the program were 43 percentage points more likely to complete the 8th grade than comparable girls who were not enrolled in the program. This impact, however, did not sustain beyond 8th grade

Analyzing the impact of the program on educational outcome helps us begin to unravel the pervasive nature of actual and perceived violence, sexual violation and sexual harassment in public spaces in the lives of girls in Haryana, with profound effects on girls’ access to education and on early marriage.

Our research indicated that there has been a significant shift in the importance placed on a girl’s education, although largely to enhance the marriage prospects for girls. Due to the expansion of government and private schooling infrastructure and increased access to financial aid to promote education for girls, more girls in Haryana go to school than previous generations. School enrollment is up and the completion of elementary education (up to 8th grade) is the new norm.

Elementary school attendance can likely be explained by the proximity of schools to girls homes. Elementary schools are available in and around every village vicinity and girls are within safe walking distance. Many girls drop out after 8th grade and enrollment in secondary school is reduced nearly half, in part because attending secondary school often requires girls to travel relatively long distances and use public transportation, both of which present additional financial and social costs.

One of these social costs is the exposure to sexual violence and harassment.In Haryana, a girl’s chastity is related to her family’s honor and is the first requirement for a good marriage. Parents are reluctant to send their daughters outside the village to secondary school, often out of fear for their safety. Anxieties are heightened by the perception that the social environment has deteriorated over the last 15 to 20 years. A particular phrase, mahaul kharab hai (“the social environment is bad”), was used by respondents in our study across all classes and castes to describe their concerns for young girls. The “social environment” includes sexual violence against girls and high levels of unemployment amongst young men, increasing drug abuse and alcoholism, the dominance of young men in public spaces and recent incidents of elopements by young boys and girls. Frequent reporting of rape and sexual harassment cases, both in Haryana and other parts of India, were often referenced to reinforce the growing vulnerability of young girls.

The increased vulnerability of girls due to a perceived decline in the societal values, exposure to the “outside” through the media and mobile phones and increased interaction with boys were a constant cause of lament for the families. As a father of one girl said, “Nowadays they keep on speaking to girls on the mobile. This has spoilt them. The environment has become bad. The girls too have become bad. See how hooliganism has increased. This is because of mobile. If there is no employment then the idle brain becomes a devil’s workshop and hooliganism increases.”

Education is critical to levelling the playing field for girls because it enhances their capabilities and enables them to better address the violence and discrimination they experience. The potential for education, however, is often held ransom to gender-based violence, creating a vicious cycle for girls. Throughout the 16 Days of Action, we’ll be calling for organizations, governments and donors to do more to ensure that no girl has to drop out of school because of the violence she faces on the way to school, in school, or simply because she wants the quality education she deserves.