Women’s education has assumed special significance in the context of the country’s planned development. This is because women represent a valuable human resource and play an important role in development of community and the nation. Educating women has many benefits as it enables them to foster a value system which is conducive in raising their status in society. So far the status of education of the Muslim women is concerned it is still the most unpleasant besides the cultural traditions which act as catastrophe limiting Muslim girls from obtaining the benefit of co-educational schools, mainly if they are remote away from their homes. However despite this significance of education there is a wide gap between male and female literacy rates in India and inequality between various religious communities. There is considerable gap between education of Muslims and other communities in India; Muslims are educationally backward in among all the other religious groups in India.
Muslims constitute India’s largest minority (17.73 millions). On the educational front though, they are still among the backward communities causing concern with a total literacy rate of 59.1% as compared to the national literacy rate of 74.03%. However the improvements are visible now seeing the current enrolments in both the urban and rural areas. Muslim girls and women lag behind their male counterparts and women of all other communities. The educational profile of Muslim women/girls today is 50.1% as compared to their male counterparts 67.6% and is also lower than the women of all other religious communities like Jains 90.6 %, Sikhs 63.1%, Hindus 53.2 % and women folk of other communities.
As per latest census available (2011) Muslim population in Gujarat is 4.5 million, where male Muslim population is 2.3 million and women population is 2.2 million. In Gujarat the Muslim literacy rate of 73.5%, compared to the national average of 59.1%. Muslim women literacy rate at 57% compared to the national average of 43%. When compared to literacy of Muslim males (81%) the female literacy rate reflects a huge disparity. Gujarat has a positive picture to present in case of Muslim education attainment which is 74.9 % in primary stage compared to national average of 60.9 %, at secondary stage it is 45.3% ahead of national average of 40.5 % and at higher secondary education it is 26.1 % ahead of national average of 23.9 %.
Nevertheless, the country as well as the state of Gujarat is committed is to educational advancement and empowerment of all women in pursuance of the Constitutional commitment of equality and life with dignity as reflected in the National Policy of Education, 1986 and its Revised Programme of Action 1992 that goes substantially beyond the equal opportunity and social justice approach and expects education to become an instrument of women’s equality and empowerment. It gives an overriding priority to removal of gender disparities and commands the entire educational system to work for women’s equality and empowerment. The total approach of the NPE and POA is to link education of girls and women to broader concerns of national development and to develop in them a culture of self-reliance, a positive self-image and the capacity to participate in decision making at all levels on an equal footing.
Muslim Girls and Access to Education in Gujarat
As compared to the dismal past, it is being observed and facts reveal that the access of Muslim girls has increased and the credit goes to Education that has laid a positive impact over the years. Still there is a much scope for further development to ensure a high literacy rate among women and the disparities in literacy still exist among males and females, the reasons for such a perpetual disparity are mostly sociological. The age old factors of patriarchy, lack of decision making power with women, lack of ownership rights, status of women at domestic front, significance of women emancipation at domestic level, economic dependence of women, perceptions about female education, gender insensitive local culture, misinterpretation of religion, normative structure of the community, poverty, biased gendered attitudes, early marriages, socialization, culture of poverty and ignorance, etc, play a major role in keeping women away from education and development. Besides, there is the lack of infrastructure like the dearth of schools in rural areas, lack of proper teaching staff, half launched schemes, etc, that also significantly affects the rural education to a greater extent. Nevertheless, the state of Gujarat is committed to educational advancement and empowerment of all women in pursuance of the Constitutional commitment of equality and life with dignity.
Education is making a substantial positive change in the context of education among rural Muslims in Gujarat and the government is extending various incentives to girls so that their parents could send them to school. A few special Central schemes were floated for Education of Muslims, some especially for girls after 1992.These measures have been yielding ample results because of the community involvement, change in the parental attitude, changing local perceptions and concerns for education of women and also the change of perceptions against gender inequality that has led to the enhancement of the female education. Along with the centrally sponsored schemes the government of the Gujarat has tried to unburden the parents by giving monitory assistance to female secondary level students as well as books to ensure decrease in the drop-out rate.
The provisions made by the Gujarat government for free and compulsory education has to a large extent worked for their upliftment of Muslim girls/women. It is indeed a good omen that there is 100 % success in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (free and compulsory primary education). Simultaneously the Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan is also ongoing for improvement in the number of school going girls at secondary levels. It is practical knowledge that in society like Muslims, families exercise influence on individuals and it is imperative to channelize the same power for the promotion of secondary education of girls. Parents (especially mothers) may be called upon to increase their involvement in the process of educating their female children by providing adequate follow up to academic learning at school and at home. Much is achieved and lot more is still to be achieved with equal partnership of government and civil society. Government has now to work towards providing appropriate transport facility so that the women feel secure and declare ‘Right of employment’ as fundamental rights for Muslim Women. This will bring a change in the position of women and girls in the state as well as make them equal partners in the growth of the state.
[Dr. Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor at Department of Educational Administration in the M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, she can be mailed at; email@example.com)]