Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Empowering Women Through Education

Lucky are those girls who study under an enlightened teacher like Roshan Ara

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.' Until her teaching position is made permanent, Ms. Ara moves from assignment to assignment. She was previously a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. Presently she is Senior Lecturer in Commerce, Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Amirakadal, Srinagar.During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

What Does the Real Education Mean?

Education occupies a pivotal position in the development of every society. Education widens the horizons of our mindset, opens up new vistas for mankind and empowers the powerless. Studies world over have revealed that education is the most important instrument for the empowerment of women. It is only through education and training that they prepare to play their roles in the nation’s social, economic and political spheres as equal members of society. One of the key factors in determining the success of development is the status and position of women in the society. The neglect of women in the development process of any country constitutes a human resource waste. As the primary enrolment for girls’ increases, so does the gross domestic product per-capita of the country increase. Countries that fail to raise the level of education of women, have to pay for a slow rate of growth and reduced income level. Education can enable women to discover, explore, and expand upon their hidden potential.

Many research studies conducted, so far, reveal that education leads to women’s emancipation and helps them to break the glass ceilings and enter the world hitherto monopolised by men. Emphasising the importance of women’s education Gandhi ji says: “if you educate a man, you are educating an individual only and if you are educating a woman, you are educating a family”. The best investment of a nation is the one in the education of its women folk which forms half of world population. Education of women has a multiplier effect. Better educated mothers bring up better educated children and thus the benefits of education are passed on from one generation to another. It leads to more equitable distribution of resources, social benefits, stronger and happier families, better services and a good healthcare of children. As per a study a one year increase in mother’s education leads to 9% decrease in mortality rate of children under 5 years of age. Woman education helps a country reduce its poverty, improve productivity, reduce pressure of population and provide a better future to the citizens of the country. Education is the only means by which she can establish her own independent existence, her own individuality and equal partnership with men. An educated woman develops confidence to participate actively in the political, social, and cultural life of the community. This in turn equips women with better mobility, expression, understanding, and ability to make decisions and accept responsibility. Furthermore, educated women have demonstrated a better ability to keep control over their husband’s expenditures, maintain their own economic independence, improve household management, and contribute to the family income pool.

In the modern world, the role of the women goes much beyond the home and the bringing up of children. She is now adopting a career of her own and sharing equally with the man the responsibility for the development of society in all its aspects. This equal partnership will have to continue in the fight against hunger, poverty, ignorance and ill health. Education will enable women acquire skills and self confidence. By education a woman can be a better parent, competent worker and an informed citizen. It will equip women with good decision making powers. The children of educated mothers are more likely to go to schools. No country or society can work to its potential without adequately investing in developing the capabilities of its women folk. The need for involvement of women in all aspects of development process is felt everywhere as the social gains from education of women are substantial. Since women are supposed to play a great role in the development of a nation in the context of family and the society at large, their education will act as a life line for their development and prosperity.

At the global level, the women form one third of world’s illiterates. One hundred million children approximately including sixty million girls are without access to primary education. In developing countries particularly, women have lesser access to education, employment opportunities, income and power and are most deprived section of society. The maternal mortality rate in developing countries is about 18 times high as compared to that reported in industrialised countries. The human development index is extremely gender insensitive. For the past two decades, particularly since the Jomtien Conference on Education for All (1990), the subject of women-related educational access has gained increased attention. Indeed, the subject of educational access has been gaining increased attention, ranging from the classical-liberal economic approach of the World Bank, to the human rights approach of agencies as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). In the context of India’s planned development, female education has assumed special significance since independence. All its 5 year plans have laid much emphasis on increasing the opportunities of education for girls under which special measures have been taken for improving and enhancing the education of girls. However in spite of the various commendable provisions available in the constitution and various initiatives undertaken by the Government even after 50 years of independence, the female education in India presents a dismal picture. The gap between men and women in terms of education keeps on widening.

In Jammu and Kashmir also, despite the progress made during the last 50 years, female literacy remains very low, particularly in the Kashmir valley as the education of women was given least priority and as a consequence illiteracy, ignorance and backwardness were rampant among women. After 1947, all successive governments in J&K attempted to improve the conditions of women by providing them free education which had a qualitative impact on the role and status of women. The Kashmiri women in general developed an interest and motivation to come out of their homes for education, employment and entertainment. Education, modernization and urbanization have helped Kashmiri women to find themselves at par with men in the highest offices of the government. Kashmiri women in urban as well as rural areas work in and outside their homes and are socially and economically productive. Their subservience to men has diminished and their economic contribution has notably increased.

As per a survey conducted by the Government in 2008, the literacy rate in the State was 65.67% and for female it stood only at 57.11% compared to 73.30% for males. The gender gap in the literacy is 6.19% in favour of males. As per 2011 Census, Jammu and Kashmir State has recorded a literacy rate of 68.74 %. The literacy rate among female has been reported to be 58% while as it is 78% among male. Districts of Jammu, Samba and Leh have recorded the highest literacy rates of over 90%, while as Bandipora, Ganderbal, Budgam, Ramban, Kulgam and Reasi districts have reported the lowest literacy rates of less than 60%. On the whole, there has been an improvement in education of women in cities and towns while as in rural and far flung areas the situation is still unsatisfactory. Our State figures among the poor female literacy level states like Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Manipur and Utter Pradesh. From the technical and vocational educational point of view our women folk lag far behind. Our enrolment of women in higher education is lowest. We have a limited number of women research scholars in the field of science and technology. There is dearth of female doctors, female judges and female administrators.

The stereo type mindset of people is also responsible for the educational backwardness of women in the rural areas. The parents take the education of daughters as a futile exercise and wastage of money and resources. Their attitude towards the education of daughters is totally different because they think that after marriage of the daughter they are not getting anything. They prefer the education of sons as they consider them as their future assets. With the result most of the women folk in rural and far flung areas is illiterate and ignorant. They are not aware about their rights and duties. There has been an increase in the enrolment of girls at primary and secondary levels but not at higher education level. Hardly 2 or 3% of girls reach the level of higher education.

The Government, community, NGOs and other social and religious organisations have to come forward for highlighting the essence of female education. Feminists will have to continue their struggle to make women aware of the benefits of education. The schools and colleges need to be safe places where parents will prefer to send their daughters happily. The flagship Mid Day Meal Scheme and Sarva Shikhsha Abihayan need to be implemented properly. Separate allocation of budget for women’s education is a crucial requirement. New schemes for girl education in backward and remote areas should be a matter of concern for the policy makers.

For attaining a sustainable economic growth both formal as well as non-formal education for women is indispensable. Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system of education has emerged as a tool with immense potential for creating widespread access of knowledge for women. It allows women to overcome the barriers of time, space and socio-economic conditions and to bring a variety of learning resources to meet their educational needs. ODL system has the potential to educate and train them while preserving the Islamic identity and socio-cultural traditions. Women from all walks of life have continued to seize the opportunities of ODL programmes to improve on their education, get better job and improve on their standards of living. Full time house wives and working women can pursue the much craved training, skill development and education in the open and flexible learning environment.

It becomes imperative for the policy makers, planners and the educationists to initiate such measures which will help in enhancing the enrollment of girls in schools and higher education institutions. The drop-out rates of female students needs to be studied properly. The existing gaps in education of boys and girls need to be identified. The creation of a suitable infrastructure like separate girls schools, female teachers, nearby schools, washrooms, transport facilities and a secure environment is the need of the hour. Some special provisions and schemes for girl students like scholarships, free books, uniform etc will go a long way in overcoming the barriers in female education. The Bihar Government provides bicycles to the school going girls which facilitates their reaching the school in time and saves them from the menace of overcrowded buses or covering long distances by foot. This initiative has helped the state in motivating girl students to attend their schools and has increased their enrollment. Initiatives like this can attract our girl students from rural areas towards schools.

Special measures need to be taken to eliminate discrimination, universalize education, eradicate illiteracy, reduce gender gap, create a gender sensitive educational system, increase enrollment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate lifelong learning as well as development of vocation and technical skills by women, with a special focus on women belonging to weaker sections of society. A gender sensitive curriculum has to be developed at all levels of educational system in order to address sex stereotyping as one of the causes of gender discrimination. As education is a fundamental right of every individual irrespective of caste, colour, creed and sex, denial of this right to any individual is the violation of the basic human rights. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the government to make education mandatory for all the sections of the society especially for female folk who have yet not availed this opportunity fully.

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