Girls in India and around the world fight gender discrimination, poverty and child marriage to attend school. That’s why we’re sending girls to school this Giving Tuesday.
Girls walk out of their classrooms and gather in the school courtyard. Their school uniforms are dark and light blue — a button-up kurta, loose light-blue pants, and a scarf that trails behind their shoulders. Most have their hair pulled tightly up into braids or pigtails that fall on either side of their head. The girls are chatty and excited. Final exams just ended, and they’re done for the day.
The scene seems ordinary, like the end of a school day you’d see anywhere. But for these girls, in this place, going to school is anything but ordinary. It’s remarkable that so many of them are here. Because it’s not easy for girls to get an education in India.
This fact is strikingly apparent by the contrast of who else is in the courtyard — the girls’ mothers here to pick them up from school.
“I don’t want my daughter to become like me,” one of the mothers says. She means in regards to education — because she has none. Neither do the other moms here.
They work unskilled labor jobs. Jobs that are unreliable and produce an unreliable income. They live in poverty, and are now fighting for their daughters to have the opportunity they never had. They’re so proud of their daughters, and grateful that they have the chance to go to school.
Over 250 girls attend this all-girls school in Pune, India. It’s located in the same neighborhood as the nearby slum buildings where they live.
Each of these girls has the chance to go to school thanks to generous Holt donors and sponsors. But it hasn’t been easy.
Obstacles to Education
Around the world, and especially in India, so many girls don’t go to school. The reasons for this can be as simple as poverty, or as complex as gender discrimination and generational illiteracy. Usually, there’s a combination of these barriers at play.
For a family living in poverty, who barely has enough money to feed their children, paying school expenses is out of the question. And if they do have some money for school, long-held gender discrimination often leads to sending their sons to school, but not their daughters. In families where mothers and grandmothers are uneducated, they often don’t understand why it’s important for the young girls in their family to be educated.
Not only does this leave daughters without an education, but it opens the door to all kinds of dangers. Namely, child labor and child marriage.
In India especially, the threat of child marriage is strong. It’s become even stronger since the pandemic. Especially for families living in poverty, marrying off a daughter means one fewer mouth to feed.
In 2016, Holt social workers began going door to door through this slum neighborhood in Pune, India, meeting children and families.
As suspected, they learned that a lot of the girls here weren’t going to school. But family by family, child by child, they began advocating for education. That it is necessary for both girls and boys. That it pays off. That it is each child and family’s best chance for overcoming poverty. That because of Holt sponsors and donors, it was possible for their daughters to attend.
Today, so much has changed. Since sponsors started supporting girls at this school in 2016, the dropout rate decreased, and enrollment has increased. Education is becoming a deeply-held value by this community. And these girls are reaping the benefits.
Empowered Through Education
Back in the school courtyard, the mothers begin talking about all the ways they want their daughters to have a better life than they’ve had. They want them to wait until they’re at least 18 to get married. They want them to have good husbands who aren’t violent. They want them to be self-sufficient. And they know that education is the best way to ensure these things.
Against all odds, these girls are creating a better life for themselves. As each one of them goes to school, she’s escaping child marriage. As she learns reading, writing, math, history and more, she’s gaining the tools to to someday escape poverty. As an empowered girl, she becomes a force of change for herself, her family and her community.
That’s why educating girls is so important. And that’s why it’s our focus this Giving Tuesday.