In India, the National Girl Child Day is celebrated every year on January 24. It was initiated in 2008 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Government of India to spread public awareness about inequities that girls face in Indian society. The day is celebrated with organised programs, including awareness campaigns about 'Save The Girl Child', child sex ratios, and creating a healthy and safe environment for girls. In 2019, the day was celebrated with the theme, 'Empowering Girls for a Brighter Tomorrow'.
The day also aims to highlight the importance of girls education, health, and nutrition and create a safe and healthy environment for them.
A girl's struggle begins in her mother's womb. The appalling practice of female foeticide is still prevalent in a country like India, as many families still prefer sons over daughters.
According to the Population Research Institute (PRI), nearly 15.8 million girls went missing in India due to prenatal sex selection between 1990 and 2018 – 5,50,000 in 2018 alone. And, if a girl is lucky enough to be born, the discrimination and oppression start soon after. In low-income families, especially in rural India, female children do not receive proper nutrition or education like their male siblings.
As per the 2011 census, only 65.46 per cent of the females were literate as against 82.14 per cent of males. Education for daughters is not considered essential, and they are forced to stay at home and take care of the household chores. Some are married off much before they reach the legal marriageable age of 18 years. Often, discrimination and oppression increase after marriage and violence against women is not rare in their marital homes.
Given the scenario, there is an urgent need to recognise the importance of all the issues girls and women face in India and celebrate their place in society. On this day, various events are organised all over the country to celebrate the girl child. The Government of India organises campaigns such as 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' to increase the consciousness among the people regarding girl children in India.
Apart from the government initiatives, numerous NGOs in the country have taken the responsibility to protect the girl child and ensure that she receives the love, care, and support to grow into a strong individual who has equal opportunities in life.
Here's a look at some of the NGOs in India that work to empower girl child:
Rani, a 16-year-old girl from Raebareli, was compelled to drop out of school after class 7 due to poverty and household responsibilities. After dropping out of school, she spent all her time on household chores. She woke up at 5 am every day to start her work. She used to go multiple times to a hand pump to fetch water, clean the house, wash utensils, feed the buffaloes nearby and prepare breakfast for the entire family.
Many girls like Rani are currently outside the education system in India. Socio-economic circumstances force them to leave schools, work at home and, at times, as child labours. Often, they are forced to get married at a tender age and raise a family.
Oxfam India advocates for the proper implementation of the Right to Education to achieve the goal of quality and affordable education for each child in India, especially marginalised children. Their education programme addresses specific issues which hamper girl child education in the country. The NGO works with communities to monitor the delivery of quality education on the ground, engage with teachers, elected peoples' representatives and bring together existing education networks. In addition, it counsels parents and raise awareness about the importance of girls' education and works with families and community members to advocate for the importance of educating them. Oxfam India reaches out to the most marginalised communities in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha, where children, especially girls, are deprived of their education and rights.
Ishita Sharma Foundation (MukkaMaar)
Self-defence is not just a set of techniques, it's a mindset, and it begins with the belief that you are worth defending. -Rorion Garcie.
The fear of sexual assault forms an everpresent backdrop of womens' lives, limiting them from exploring their true abilities.
Adolescents who are victimised are up to five times more likely to be victimised later in life than those who are not (Humphrey & White, 2000).
MukkaMaar removes this fear and vulnerability and creates agency in adolescent girls from underserved communities with empowerment self-defence training.
In a short span of three years of partnership with Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the NGO has imparted over 4000 hours of training to more than 3000 girls across 66 schools. Through the Equity Labs program, MukkaMaar trained 315 Physical Educators to practice consent, practical self-defence training, boundary setting, and equity in the classroom, indirectly impacting over 50,000 adolescents studying in Mumbai public schools.
The NGO has reached more than 11,000 children, youth, parents, and teachers through its workshops and awareness camps.
Girls are 'taught by society to behave in ways that make them 'better victims'. They internalise these behaviours are shamed and blamed for evoking violence, and it systematically allows for discrimination, violence, violation of rights to continue and percolate through generations. Through this, they are stripped of rights agency and are made to believe that their safety, sense of security, and freedom; are neither important nor something they can fight for. These 'qualities' make them 'vulnerable', a trait that is the most prominent denominator in victimisation.
MukkaMaar girls feel confident safe, can defend themselves and make disclosures of sexual assault without shame. It allows them to negotiate for their rights and freedom, continue higher education and delay forced marriage.
MukkaMaar has launched a 'text-based learning assistant' over WhatsApp to reach 10,000 girls in Mumbai, who have little access to a device and data, to continue to be safe. Launched in August 2021, it will have an integrated loyalty program, allowing girls to win points and redeem them as data packs to continue their learning and education.
Girls' education after they reach grade 8th, 10th and 12th is a challenge in targeted areas of Ibtada. The long-distance to the education facility creates hurdles for girls. The means of transportation are uncertain, and parents are concerned about girls' safety. Therefore, most girls drop out of school after grade 8th — those who can study until grade 12th drop out after that. A college education is expensive, which is another obstruction coupled with earlier stated constraints. Parents also have a conservative mindset. They do not want their daughters to get exposed to the world by going out to towns and cities to pursue education. They want to marry them by 16-18 to be free of their responsibility. These are the reasons why girls do not get to continue their education beyond a certain level.
Ibtada has been working with these communities for the past 15-20 years and has been able to positively impact the community's behaviour. The NGO has mobilised the girls and motivated parents to continue their education until they complete class 12th as the first step and graduation at college as the second step. The transport facilities from village to school/college have been arranged, and parents are at peace that the girls have safe travel to school/college. There are expenses involved for fees, books, and stationery for college education, and Ibtada has arranged to pay the fees and other costs to be born by parents. It also conducts empowerment sessions with the girls on communication, negotiation, goal setting, adolescent health etc. It helps girls with continuing their education.
The education of adolescents and young girls has a long-term impact on gender relations and gender lookout in the community. Better educated girls can cope with life challenges, be eligible for employment, and strive for better status in the family and community. They get married at the right age and can exercise choices in life. They take better care of themselves and family. They contribute to family livelihood, children's education and health. The whole effort is to empower girls and women and create a gender-equitable society.