Education is one of the key focus areas of SDGs, and one entire Goal, No. 4 is dedicated to it. Even though India has made improvements towards achieving SDGs and now has a score of 66, a six-point jump from the previous digit, there is still a long way to go. According to the Right to Education Forum and Center for Budget Policy Studies, the literacy rate of women in India is only at 65%. Girls are twice less likely as boys to receive at least four years of schooling, moreover, 30% of the girls from the economically disadvantaged groups have never been to school.
If India wants to achieve complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes, it is imperative to accelerate every effort towards the education of girls. In addition, all the other sustainable development goals must receive aggressive and intentional effort as that would determine whether or not girls will have access to the education and the social justice they deserve.
I strongly believe that the realisation of all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals will directly contribute towards the education of girls and will even greatly benefit from the participation of educated girls. Sustainable Development goals 1, 2, 5-7, 10-17 play a critical role in providing education to girls. Ending poverty (G1) will increase access to health, education, water and sanitation significantly. Girls will not be held back at home to take care of gendered activities or to get employed as domestic workers. Moreover, they will not get trafficked into forced labour or sex slavery to support the families, often drowing in financial crises. The pandemic has already undone the progress made in the education of girls, as during the multiple lockdowns the girls were forced back into limited and traditional roles, coerced into taking up menial/informal work or worse, married off to relieve parents of the pressing lack of resources.
According to UN statistics, out of the 277.2 million people undernourished in South Asia, 53% of women aged between 15-49 are anaemic and over 80% of infants and young children do not get even the minimum dietary diversity. In this current and desperate situation, if we ask those 277.2 million people to prioritise between education or food, the obvious option would be to satiate their hunger (G2). Families struggling with poverty as well as hunger will choose to send their kids out to fetch work so they can financially support the families, rather than send them to schools and have to wait a decade or so for them to start earning. By then they might have lost their family to malnutrition.
Gender equality (G5) is at the heart of providing education to girls, as it is often the injustice of gender inequality that renders women illiterate. The flourishing consequences of gender equality can ensure healthy lives and drastically reduce poverty, hunger etc.
In India, especially in rural regions, the access to clean water and sanitation (G6) decides if and for how long a girl receives her education. It is often women who take up the responsibility of providing water to their families for various purposes, which is accomplished through trips lasting upto 10 miles on an average with 15 litres of water carried on every trip. The literal burden of carrying water forces a girl to not only drop out of school but sustain poor health.
Affordable and clean energy (G7) with its focus on electricity access in poorer countries, can ensure easy access to online education for girls, especially now when the physical schools are shut and online education is the new environment.
Even though gender inequality is quite prominent in India, discrimination based on caste is catastrophic. The worst affected are the Dalit women, according to National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB), 10 Dalit women are raped every day and die 14.6 years younger than women from the higher castes (UN). One can only imagine the level of access such individuals have to education. Reduced inequalities(G10) can ensure access to the right of education (enshrined in the Indian Constitution) to the worst-hit individuals.
Also, the goals for Decent work and economic growth/Industries, innovation and infrastructure (G8&9) require an educated and skilled workforce. As the economy would expand, so would the demand and that is where skilled and educated women would step up to lead countries. The induction of equipped women in the formal workforce is key to achieving this goal to its full potential.
The goal of sustainable cities and communities (G11) stands to offer safety and health security to girls who are currently struggling with overcrowded living spaces which often lead to health and security concerns. If dealt with correctly, it can ensure a safe and healthy environment where women can access education without fearing the consequences. This resonates with the desire and consequences of (G16), which aspires for peace, justice and strong institutions. Sustainable consumption and production (G12) have the potential to reduce poverty, which could directly affect the decision of a family (which is living in a son-preference culture), to send their children, especially girls, to school rather than sending them out to find work.
Climate change(G13), which is affecting economies and lives on an exponential level, impacts the education of the girls, as they can be forced to drop out and find jobs to financially support the family or stay at home and participate in gendered activities. Marine biodiversity and nature (G14,15) which is under attack, has a direct relevance to the health of human beings, so when in a given country the undereducated girls are already struggling due to poor health, the worsening condition of these resources can push the need to educate girls further back into oblivion. Lastly, partnership for goals (G17) is key to realising that both domestic and international stakeholders commit and create the political will to educate girls.
Goals ensuring healthy lives, promoting well-being for all ages and quality education (G3&4) are heavily dependent on having educated girls in the world. According to Stanford Professor, Lynn Murphy, educated girls are healthier, bring up healthier families, are protected against HIV/AIDS, have better autonomy over their body, have better access to medical assistance and invest in the health of future generations/communities, increasing life expectancy. So, if we want healthy lives, consisting of families, consisting of communities, consisting of cities, and countries then providing quality education to women is a non-negotiable. Quality education through diverse forms of learning, non-formal school setups consisting of critical thinking and life skills is crucial for providing education to our girls, because the adverse consequences of not having an education are greater for girls than they are for boys. Above all, this is about restoring social justice to 50% of the world’s population which has been systematically deprived of basic human rights.
By Priyanka Rawat
Priyanka Rawat has been working in the Development sector for the past 1 decade. She is eager to learn and engage with the issues affecting women of India eventually strengthening her capability to bring in substantial changes in the country. Priyanka is deeply passionate about creative expressions and often creates from her personal experiences be it art, or writing.