When we think of education of girls, usually image of school going girls come in our mind. What about education of young girls who got married at an early age? What about education of out of school girls living in urban poor communities? What does education mean to them? Significant numbers of young girls who have dropped out of school are living in urban poor colonies.
Since 2015, Nirantar has been working with out of school/never enrolled young girls in Delhi and Bareilly under partnership with community based organizations. During the learning course we move out of the classrooms to explore nearby old markets, historical places, water bodies, parks, etc. to understand the significance of markets, water, natural resources etc. in our daily lives. Recently, we organized closing events of the learning course with community people to celebrate educational journey of young girls who have completed the course.
It was inspiring to see girls planning, practicing and organizing everything for learning course closing events. Everyone was participating in different activities based on their interests and shared their experiences of learning with all. In contrast with boys, most of them shared that they were not encouraged to complete schooling once they failed and they did not have friends to share their feelings without being judged.
One of them said, “I was really scared of school and teachers. I did not have friends in school and most of the classmates used to tease me. When I failed in class 6th, everyone started passing comments and advised me to discontinue studies. They always passed negative statements like, “You will not be able to do anything beyond household work”. After initial encouragement by a local organization, I was enrolled for the learning course and have successfully completed it. I have given fitting reply to those who questioned my abilities. In the learning center, I hada totally different experience as compared to schools. Here teachers are very friendly and always encourages us to learn without giving judgments.”
During the closing events, all the girls looked excited and one could gauge happiness on their faces while they were sharing their experiences. It was amazing to know that merely one year of engagement with learners can bring turn around in lives of many young girls. Most of them emphasized the importance of center as a space to talk about their lives, anxieties, aspirations, relationships, confusions and also experiences where things went really wrong. Such a space gives them an avenue to talk about things without being conscious of the consequences. While trying to understand the lives of these young girls, it should also be noted that many of them were compelled to do all the household works and other additional jobs based on contract orders for sustenance of their families. They hardly found friends in the colony to share their personal feelings. During the learning course period, the center has given them an atmosphere for cultivating friendships and exploring new things, enjoying playing games and moving out of the boundaries of their areas.
During one of the closing events, one girl said, “Women are considered as enemy of other women and mother-in -laws are always against their daughter-in-laws but my mother-in-law has proved it wrong. I came for learning classes daily and she has taken care of my children. She wants me to study and complete my studies which I could not complete after dropping out of the school at early age.”
We had noticed another level of dedication and aspiration among early married girls who wanted to come for the classes. Most of them had to face negative comments, discouragements from community people and they had to negotiate with their families for long to continue studies after years of gap. On one hand, some girls face violence within families, especially by husbands who question the idea of continuing studies. On the other hand, some girls have also received strong support from their families who encouraged them to continue studies and also ensured that they attend the daily classes. At the end of the course, most of them shared that before coming to the center they did not know that they could be considered valuable. Diversity within learners in terms of their regions, ages, educational qualifications, languages, religions and experiences has become a crucial resource for the center. It brings out different voices on the table and life experiences of girls become learning for others.
In few cases, community women stood up and shared their life experiences in their own words to highlight the value of education in the life of young girls.
One of them said, “I discontinued studies when my mother got ill and was also married off early. After few years, my husband died and I had to live with my parents. I was the youngest member in my family and I always dreamed to do various things in life, but now I am financially dependent on my brothers. I take care of all family members and also look after my paralyzed mother but my contribution is never considered valuable because I am not able to do any job like educated people. Why people always question girls and their intentions? Whenever girls are teased on their way back home, they are blamed for the incidence without knowing any other details. Why boys are not taught to behave properly with girls? Why cannot we allow girls to interact with the outside world? Many women have to face lots of challenges in their lives and they hardly find someone to share their feelings. Many of them are forced to control their emotions and continue suffocating lives without finding companions to share their feelings. Do we realize the negative impacts of excessive control over the women in their households on their well-being? I could not complete my studies but I would request all the mothers to trust their daughters, allow them to move out of the houses and help them in continuing their studies.”
It was really inspiring to listen to young girls talking about their lives and encouraging other girls to continue studies again. They had started to reflect on their own lives and decided to take some strong steps to lead lives in their own way. These girls have become a collective group who discuss their common concerns and want to support each other in dealing with their daily life challenges. After the emotional sharing in the events, girls came together to dance on popular local songs with full excitement. Many of the young girls, especially early married girls had not danced for years. It was heartening to see the girls dancing on the floor with the teachers and the married girls were dancing with kids. The closing events at various centers gave many inspiring memories to cherish in the future.