As I sit here to write, I find myself lucky enough to have this luxury of writing, of having access to this amazing technology and knowing just how and when to move my fingers on the keyboard, just a click away for the world to read my mind and let my words speak, my thoughts catch like a forest fire. The spontaneity of feeling thankful and blessed for this indulgence is almost palpable and I can’t resist it as if I’m a non-human being, who otherwise would have no right to be entitled to this pure beauty of knowledge, art and expression. Is it necessary even to feel this undesired, whimsical thankfulness just for posting a tiny piece of writing?! Yes it is, especially in a war trodden and poverty infected country like Nepal. A pang of guilt and deep remorse grip my heart as I think about thousands of those innocent girls who are denied of their basic human rights- their right to education, their essential right to speak, to be heard and lead an independent life.
While women have stepped moon and taken lead role in all possible fields of human endeavours, it’s ironical and equally alarming that the greatest challenge that we face today is access to girl’s education. There are several challenges that a girl child may face such as social, cultural and economic barriers that keep her from going to school. Poverty is one such marsh which has rendered thousands of children, especially girls, physically and mentally malnourished and intellectually disabled, reinforcing yet more poverty. It is much easier for the parents to employ their young children as a source of income than sending to schools. Marrying daughters off sooner would cut half of their burden than bearing their costs and lamenting later with a hefty dowry.
Girls are married off early, bear children in tender age and die (a properly planned murder in a socially acceptable way) as we often witness in rural and suburban parts of Nepal. If she survives, she would give birth to many until she’s worn out. According to the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare over 34 per cent of new marriages in Nepal involve brides under 15 years of age, while in some rural Tarai districts of Dhanusha, Mahottari and Rupandehi, more than 50 per cent of marriages involve girls under 12 years of age.
Social biases and discrimination are pervasive especially in rural parts of Nepal where boys are preferred as the sole bearer of family’s lineage and the main earner. From religious myths to everyday practices, everything fosters cultural biasness towards daughters and girls that teach them to be submissive, vulnerable and obedient as opposed to the male characteristics of dominance, strength and intelligence. Mainstream development plans, legal frameworks and strategic policies seem to have submerged in gender stereotypes. Lack of women’s real and meaningful participation at the decision making and leadership level is one of the greatest woes of Nepal. There is no REAL participation of women in decision making level and involved few are but a sheer REPRESENTATION, just a sit-in, made ultimately to look like participation.
Change doesn’t come in isolation; myriads of aspects must work out to elevate the condition of women and girls. Making education free up to the high school level would increase the girl child’s enrollment, however won’t guarantee her liberation from the discrimination and bias for which it is imperative that women researchers, politicians, educationists, law makers and leaders be given a chance to bring change. Incentives in girls’ education as well as some vocational training to the parents and girls themselves would work wonders. Besides, good teacher trainings are equally essential. Lack of awareness on education prevails among the illiterate mass, therefore, some awareness campaigns with women leaders and teachers would be a good move.
Coming from an educated family, I didn’t personally experience social or cultural bias, but I still feel it in the air I breathe, the allies I walk. I hear it in my soul, throbbing, grumbling and roaring; hundreds of poltergeists within me as if awoken after years of sleep to remind me that I have responsibilities, obligations to make. These dead Poltergeists must rise, must groan in each educated individual’s soul, for if they can’t do anything, they must not remain silent. This deafening silence would be an injustice to those millions of girls who don’t and perhaps will never enjoy the precious right to education and emancipation unless we in solidarity speak for them. It’s a battle for emancipation which each one of us must fight. So, I write, I speak the stories of daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, the nurturers of humanity. And unless I don’t, my soul will never be at peace.Girls Transform the World 2013