College was closed for winter vacation. After 6 months of being far from my home, I felt so at home and warm as I was lying on my own old wooden bed where I had lain and dreamt for over ten years. I rose early and eagerly from my comfort, though it was into the shivery cold, so I could sit near mother in the kitchen where she was making tea to welcome the golden break of day. As I stepped down toward the yard from my room toward the kitchen I saw Sita Aunt, my aunt who lived next door, sitting near the door of our kitchen. She glared at me; I just gave her a smile and asked her how she was.

Mother’s traditional, wood burning clay stove had been making the kitchen room smoky, so mother was coughing and wiping her tears with the hem of her sari. She admonished me to stay out to protect me from the smoke, though she herself was enveloped in that nasty smoke. The tenderness of my mother’s heart touched me instantly and deeply. I smelt her sense of being an extra ordinary mother who understood the power of education so always endured against society’s rule regarding girl’s education. She provided a favorable environment and always encouraged me to achieve higher education. The role she played, the love she showered, the care she gave was praiseful and was surely a mark of a special mother.

Entering the kitchen, I see a pile of plates and cooking pots from dinner last night. I pick them up and turn to the nearby tap to wash. Being able to do this again after being gone from home brought warm and toasty feelings inside, so my hands ignored the chilling sense of the frosty water.

But suddenly I shivered, as I heard the shrill words from Sita Aunt, who had continued to watch me from the kitchen door. “It’s useless for girls to study; in the end her job will be washing dishes!” Being reminded of the hard reality of this devastating attitude had driven away the warmth of my comfort at being home. This didn’t surprise me though, I did not get much shock after hearing her because I already had acknowledged her narrow attitude as she had made her two daughters out from the school when they were studying grade 2 with me.

Forthwith, my eyes envisioned her two daughters with whom I spent my jubilant childhood time in both home and up to second grade. By this time, when I was studying my intermediate level, they had both already become mothers. My mind flashed back to the day when my two intimate and loving friends were pulled from school. I had wept as I begged Sita aunt to allow my friends to stay in school. But my tears only won me this outrageous response: “It’s enough studying for my daughters. They know enough to read their husband’s letters. If they study more, they will chase other boys.” She had effectively put a stop to my pleading.

Woman who can read and write was accused of being witchcraft:

She was middle of her age, always used to carry a stick when she got out from the house. I still remember her garland made up of seed of Rudraksh (Seed of Rudraksh tree religiously used for prayers in Hinduism) always had on her neck. When I used to be at her home she always appeared with Ramayana, Mahabharata and many other Hindu religious books. I was fond of listening story from her as she used to tell me from those books which were filled with spirituality, peace, love, courage and diplomacy. I always loved her soft voice, peaceful behavior and the love and respect she used to show to everyone. Though she was an idol lady for me was also supposed of being witchcraft.

By that time I was too little to analyze the things in deep. I put question to my mother regarding the society’s blame towards her and she explained “because people think that the woman who reads religious books and always chants mantras are witchcraft. It is like odd things in our society because most of the people are illiterate so people blame her”. Oh! That’s the reason that made me stormed but my mother’s words “most of the people are illiterate” made me bowled over and realized that how the illiteracy set the people’s mind to analyze the things! I then felt the difference between literate and illiterate. Since then my respects towards her increase more sincerely inside as she was ignored by the society just because of having skill to read.

The mindset of Sita aunt and the story of my relative aunt reflect the reality of Nepalese society where the girls/women who cover more than half of the sky (female population: 51.44% according to preliminary report of census, 2011) have been bereaved from education due to social and cultural values.

Education system in Nepal got fostered only after overthrow of the Rana Regime in 1950.Until then getting chance to study was like impossible to common people. After the political change of ending of Rana regime, common Nepalese people were able to enroll to school. But the girl’s education was still very far to achieve as society was attached so severely with patriarchal norms. According to the data published by Ministry of Education (Nepal education in figures 2011 At a Glance) girl’s education rate in 1952/54 was 0.7%. And after 10 years in 1960 it reached up to 1.8%. In 1981 the rate increase up to the 12% and in 1991(multi party democratic system begun after ending of Panchayat regime) and in 2001(Maoist armed conflict was at high peak) it was 54.5% and 65.5% respectively. The last two data proofs that the political change also has played the vital role on education.

Different patterns of discrimination, the one that close to my heart:

After finishing my intermediate level I joined many organizations working in remote villages. Working in different geographical parts with different people had also helped me to perceive the girl’s poor education status. Poverty is one of the root causes to lack the education to everyone but the partiality badly affects girls at first. Some who were very poor would not send their children to school, if any government school was there nearby then they would send their boys only. Families, who held small amount of resources, would send their daughters to government school and boys to private boarding school.

In a hilly region where I served more than a year also noticed a bias treat that’s very close to my heart.

Pashang and Tshering( name changed) were brother and sister with just 1 ½ years apart. They were a cause to me to carry things like chocolate to gift them when I used to go to their village to visit my working area. To see them together going school was a cause for me to smile. I used to compare with my time of 70-80s and by that time in 2000. It made me feel some changing status of girl’s education as they both used to go to nearby government school with lots of desires and hopes and I used to thank their parents.

Once I visited them after little bit time gap as per my office working schedule and was suddenly prickled after having a glance at her. In school hour, Tshering with school uniform was sitting in yard and feeding her little sibling alone at home. I asked her why she did not go to school and got answer with moist eyes and leaning her head towards ground. When her mother gave birth to a new baby she was forced to leave the school to take care of new born baby so that parents could give their time to earn. They did not ask to Pashang to leave the school because he was son their crutch of old age. Son is taken as a support of old age and the key to open the door of heaven after death where the girls are taken as property of others.

Tshering’s tear suck me so severely. Though the education is equally important to everyone but the issue to be thought is when it comes to take option, the victim of being bereaved from own rights are always girls. I touched her rosy cheeks to wipe the drop of her eyes. Made her inside my arm to give her a hug I could feel the sound of her heart was still crying for getting back the opportunity to go to school. I was helpless to make her dream come true as their parents had not option as they had answered me when I requested them to make their daughter going school.

By that time, Tshering’s dreams when she was school girl and her spoiled desires after pulling back from school stuck me to the bottom. The bitter reality of being out from school with which many girls have been going through in my country is still alive. When I see many girls leaving school before completing the school always reminds me the tear of Tshering. Likewise, a study indicates the existing reality of 77% of girls between 6-15 years old leave the school (Prativa Subedi, Nepali women Rising).

The story of Tshering reminds me that how the traditional values still do play the role on girls to lack the education. Menstruation is still supposed of becoming impure. During menstruation period touching books and going school is still taken as sin. A study shows that still 65.6% of female teachers believe on such practice (Status of female teachers in Nepal, study carried out by Bishta M. published by UNESCO, 2006). Likewise, undersecretary of Ministry of Education, Mr. Babukaji Karki admits that the social value and religious belief are key factor to make girls back warded in every aspects including education. Though the situation is being changed the way of discrimination also has been changed. He further clarifies that the students in community school are mostly girls where in private boarding school the students are mostly boys. In primary level education, female students are 51.3%. Similarly, in lower secondary level female student are 50.9% where boys student are more in institutional school (Ministry of Education).

As the scenario tells the facts that family want to invest more on boy’s education as they send them to expensive school where as they send their girls to community school which is cheap in compare with private school.

Policy to change the situation:

Education is fundamental rights to everyone. It makes us presentable, confident and skilled. So realizing the fact government also has introduced many strategies to increase girl’s literacy rate. Two female teachers in each school and providing 2 Littre of oil to the family of enrolled girl’s has helped to some extent. In compare with previous time there are lots of hopes for future. We should reach up to equal ratio between girl’s and boy’s education not only in urban but also in remote villages. Government’s policy is so good though, to change the conservative mindset of people is essential. Until and unless we should not change our discriminating attitude, any policy would not work in sustainable way. Society’s discriminative attitude has been playing indispensable role. We most think that if we educate our daughter she will make son in law’s family and happy by her presentable skill. Is not that makes you happy?

Keep it in mind and realized: “Educating a man is educating an individual, while educating a woman is educating a family” – Mahatma Gandhi.

looking forward to all of your valuable suggestions!

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Comments

Hi Usha,

Nice article (draft)! I especially like the way you began it. I felt as if I was reading a creative writing piece, and it's a nice, warm way to get the reader's attention before going to the facts and stats. Good job! Noreen

Usha dear,

You carried me along to the end. Just check grammar in few places. Apart from that it shows the universality of the situation of many girls and women. We need education at different levels - formal as well as information through awareness raising so that your aunt next door and many like her would realize the need for girls' education over the domestic chores.

Keep sharing the stories, they are the materials for gender education. The testimonies and case studies to understand our world better.

Amie