Mr. D.Sambangi

Senior Associate Professor & Head

Department of Social Work, Kodaikanal Christian College, Tamil Nadu, India

Education is a potent tool in the emancipation and empowerment of women. The greatest single factor which can incredibly improve the status of women in any society is education. It is indispensable that education enables women not only to gain more knowledge about the world outside of her hearth and home but helps her to get status, positive self esteem, and self confidence , necessary courage and inner strength to face challenges in life. Apparently it also facilitates them to procure a job and supplement the income of family and achieve social status. Education especially of women has a major impact on health and nutrition as an instrument of developing a sustainable strategy for population control. Moreover educated women can play an equally important role as men in nation building. Thus there is no denying fact that education empowers women. Indeed the different organs of the United Nations and experts on womens liberation argue for womens education as the basic step to attain equality with men.

One of the recommendations of National Policy on Education (1986) by the Government of India is to promote empowerment of women through the agency of education and it is considered to be a land mark in the approach to womens education of illiterate. The National Literacy Mission is another positive step towards eradication of illiteracy in the age group of 15-35 years. Women education has assumed special significance in the context of Indias planned development, as it is incorporated in every Five-year plans as the major programme for the development of women. Universalization of elementary education, enrolment and retenti on of girls in the schools, promotion of balwadies and crutches, raising number of schools and colleges of arts , science, and professional for girls , politechniques, girls hostels, multipurpose institutions and adult education programmes are some of the steps being taken by both central and state governments in India to boost-up womens education


In spite of the forceful intervention by a bastion of female privilege, feminist critics, constitutional guarantees, protecting laws and sincere efforts by the state governments and central government through various schemes and programmes over the last 62 years and above all , the United Nations enormous pressure with regard to the uplift of the plight of women in terms education is still in the state of an enigma in India for several reasons. The 2001 Census report indicates that literacy among women as only 54 percent It is virtually disheartening to obs erve that the literacy rate of women India is even much lower to national average i.e. 65.38 .The growth of womens education in rural areas is very slow. This obviously means that still large womenfolk of our country are illiterate, the weak, backward and exploited. Moreover education is also not available to all equally. Gender inequality is reinforced in education which is proved by the fact that the literacy rate for the women is only 54% against 76% of men as per 2001 Census.

Table -1 The Literacy Rate in India 1901-2001


Percentage of Literates to total population

Year Persons Males Females

1901 5.3 9.8 0.7 1911 5.9 10.6 1.1 1921 7.2 12.2 1.8 1931 9.5 15.6 2.9 1941 16.1 24.9 7.3 1951 16.7 24.9 7.3 1961 24.0 34.4 13.0 1971 29.5 39.5 1 8.7 1981 36.2 46.9 24.8 1991 52.1 63.9 39.2 2001 65.38 76.0 54.0


Source: Census of India, Government of India (2001)

According to the Table-1 the pre-Independence time literacy rate for women had a very poor spurt in comparison to literacy rate of men. This is witnessed from the fact that literacy rate of women has risen from 0.7 % to 7.3 % where as the literacy rate of men has risen from 9.8 % to 24.9 % during these four decades. During the post-independence period literacy rates have shown a substantial increase in general. However the literacy rate of male has almost tripled over the period e.g 25% in 1951 and 76 % in 2001.Surprisingly the female literacy rate has increased at a faster pace than the male literacy during the decade 1981 -2001. The growth is almost 6 times e.g. 7.9 % in 1951 and 54 % in 2001. From this a nalyse one can infer that still the female literacy rate (only half of the female population are literates) is wadding behind male literacy rate (three fourth of the male population are literates).The rate of school drop outs is also found to be comparatively higher in case of women. This higher rate of illiteracy of women is undoubtedly attributing for women dependence on men and to play a subordinate role. The lack of education is the root cause for women exploitation and negligence. Only literacy can help women to understand the Indians constitutional and legislative provisions that are made to strengthen them. Thus promoting education among women is of great important in empowering them to accomplish their goals in par with men in different spheres of life.


Women education is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. No single factor or cause can be held responsible for very low literacy rate of women in India. Subsequently it is associated with combination of many factors including social, cultural, economic, educational, demographic, political and administrative and so on. The following are the some of the important factors which could be attributed for the present poor state of affairs of womenfolk in education.

The Lower Enrolment: The lower enrolment of girls in schools is one of the foundational factors which stand as stumbling block for women empowerment in India. Reliable sources indicate that more than 50 % of the Non-Starters (those who have never been to school) are girls. According to the latest statistics, two out of every ten girls in the age group of 6-11 are still not enrolled in schools.

Higher drop-out rate among girls from schools: The incidence and prevalence of drop outs among girls especially in rural, tribal and slums areas seem to be quite high. According to available sources, occurrence of drop-out and stagnation amongst girls is nearly twice that of boys all over India

Girl Child as Second Mother: In many families girl children play the role of second mother by shouldering the responsibilities of household work such as looking after the sibling, fetching water, collecting firewood, bringing fodder for cattle, cleaning and cooking etc. In rural India especially in poor families this traditional sex role makes girl child handicapped and conditioned by the attitude of mother and the family and discourages girl child to go school as it becomes secondary

Bonded Labour System: This social evil is a quite discouraging phenomena which stand as barrier for girls education in rural areas for the underprivileged famili es of washer men and agricultural labour , scheduled caste and scheduled tribes.

Cast System as a Barrier; Children belonging to low caste families are forced to learn skills and work ways and not encouraged to go to school due to various factors in the sphere of strict instruction /threat from high caste communities for their selfish motives of keeping them as domestic servants and child labourers in the farms or factory.

Dowry as cordon: Dowry system and other social practices act as main causes of the neglect of the girl child and discrimination against girl child including the deprivation of right of education. In many families especially poor and down-trodden think that if their daughters are educated more, they have to accumulate more assets and properties to provide as dowry in large proportion at the time of marriage, so prefer rather to either stop their children with average education and so on but never higher educa tion. This prevails more in underprivileged families and communities

Child Labour Practice: A large segment of child population in India is engaged in child labour practices. According to UN sources India is the most child labour populous nation in the globe with more than 50 million child labourers indulged in beedi works , carpet making , bricks, mining , quarrying ,glass, bangles, match and fireworks, gem polishing ,handloom works. zari, embroidery ,coir industry, domestic works, construction etc. In most of these industries girl children are preferred for high productivity and low cost.

Poor School Environment for girls: In general the school environment for girls in India is not really interesting and encouraging. The subjects taught in schools are also not related to the environment of girl children. The methods of teaching are mostly out dated, rigid and uninteresting. There are still hundreds of sc hools with poor basic amenities such as drinking water, latrine and toilet facilities, improper building, and inadequate number of teachers especially female teachers preferable for any parents for safety of their girl children from different types of exploitation and abuse.

Female age at marriage: There is high association of female literacy with female age at marriage. By and large the female age at marriage of 18 ( recently 21 years ) as prescribed by various legislations not at all followed in India .It is very much ignored and neglected by the families of parents with low literacy and illiteracy background. This obnoxious practice discourages female children to continue their schooling and higher education as they enter into family life at the early age which is not advisable from the physical and mental health point of view and also of social development.

Inferiority, subservience and domesticity: The female child in Indi an culture especially in rural, tribal and poor families is expected to develop the qualities of inferiority; subservience and domesticity which place sever limitations on her education and development

Poverty as a Barrier: In many poverty stricken families, children especially girls are considered as economic assets as they bring income for livelihood as well to save from economic crises due to death or incapacity of parents (sick/ handicapped/aged)

Ineffective Law Enforcing Machinery: Indian constitution and various legislations pertaining to education to children assure free and compulsory education all children of this nation but unfortunately the enforcement machinery fail to discharge its duties and responsibilities to the satisfaction of the public interest and welfare of women

Demographic Factors: The high population growth rate, rapid urbanisation, migration etc also attribute immensely for the poor literacy level of women and girls in India

Poor Political Will and Conviction: Government officials, policy makers, politicians etc of our country have neither political will nor conviction for the empowerment of women in general.


The following measures can be considered for bringing phenomenal change in the plight womens education and empowerment in India

Since the prevailing situation of poor or less enrolment of girls in schools closes the doors for development and prosperity of future generation of women, concerted efforts must be initiated jointly by the government, parents and civil society to achieve universal enrolment for girls without any compromise. The enrolment can be made even mandatory for every girls by the government in the realm of compulsory education. . The Ministry of Education b oth at Centre and State level should work out strategic steps to stop firmly the ongoing high drop outs among girls especially in rural, tribal and slums areas with the serious involvement of voluntary organisations in every locality to realize zero drop-out among girls. The poverty stricken families can be identified through proper research and necessary poverty alleviation services be provided to strengthen the income thereby to enable the families to send their children to schools and colleges without much financial difficulties Bonded Child labour and Child labour practice must be abolished with strict administrative measures and the relieved children form bondage should be integratedinto schools with suitable defence social mechanism. Appropriate steps should be taken by the educational authorities with the participation of communities in order to bring the girl children to the main stream of education and development at every level including family and commu nity. The female child in every Indian family irrespective of socio-economic status should be moulded to overcome the challenges of inferiority; subservience and domesticity which place sever limitations on her education and development. Every family irrespective its socio-cultural and economic background can take it a challenge to bring up their girl children as dignified human being with empowerment in physical , mental, economic and social dimensions of life. The Midday meal scheme and other educational supportive services like free text books, Note books , Fee uniforms , Free Bicycles, Free bus , scholarships Free bus pass and so on as done in the state of Tamil Nadu can be provided in all states and union territories to lift up the literacy level among girls As social evils like dowry, child marriage , caste system and other practices deprive rights of education for children belonging to poor and underprivileged families and communities, they s hould eliminated through well-designed packages of mass awareness programmes and social welfare measures with full support of public, political parties, NGOs and government agencies. The electronic and print media can play significant role in building a good and positive image about girls and women in general in the society by giving no focus for such advertisements and news fetching commercial gain at the cost of depicting women as an object. This would help in changing the society s attitudes towards girls and their roles to treat every girl or woman as human being with self respect and dignity. Government, voluntary sector and philanthropic organisations and individuals should come forward to provide free education for poor girls and provide free hostel facilities for girls studying in schools and colleges in every state of India. This will certainly encourage children of poor families to pursue good and higher education without much impediments The schools of soci al work, departments of women studies, Women Universities and other educational institutions in hand with NGOs and social service organisations such as Rotary Clubs , Lions Clubs , women lib organisations associations can work together to improve the educational status of the womenfolk in this country on mutual respect and understanding. The parents of children belonging to poor, underprivileged families must be specially educated with proper social formula to help them to understand the significance of education for their girl children as foundation for empowerment Government, NGOs and public should work hand in hand to implement the minimum age at marriage (21and above) Awareness should be created to institutionalise it as a traditional practice cut acrossing castes, religions, community etc. Government officials, policy makers, political parties and others should have adequate political will and conviction to empower women in India without double standard mind The law enforcing machinery should be made really effective with efficient monitoring vigilant system to implement the constitutional and legislative provisions and administrative measures to assure free and compulsory education for all children of this nation without any gender discrimination.


N.L.Gupta(2003)Womens Education Through Ages,Concept Publications Co,New Delhi. R.K.Rao(2001) Women and Education, Kalpaz Publications, Delhi S.P.Agarval(2001),Womens Education in India(1995-98)Present Status, Perspective, Plan, Statistical Indicators with Global View,Vol III Concept Publications Co, New Delhi. Hamilton Roberta (1978) Liberation of Women, London, George Allen publishers Jaya Kothai Pillai (1995)Women and Empowerment ,Gyan Publishing House , New Delhi Government of India, Census of India 2001 Saraswathi Mishra, Status of Indian Women, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 2002

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