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Celebrate Solutions: Empowering Rural Girls in India

By: Yousra Yusuf, Women Deliver

In India, like many places throughout the world, girls and women experience gender-based discrimination in areas such as education, job opportunities and even marriage options. Rural girls face an even greater degree of gender inequality. Shakti, a girl-child empowerment program implemented by Aangan, has been working to empower girls 12 to 18 years of age. In 2011, about 2500 girls from different communities participated in this program.

On April 1, 2010, India implemented the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, yet girls still face barriers to education. Although the gender gap in education is narrowing gradually, last year males had an 82% literacy rate compared to only 65% in females. Approximately 50-60% children drop out after primary school, and most are rural girls. Dropout rates are largely due to financial constraints and lack of access to nearby educational facilities to increasing family duties.

Access to education is important for girls in many ways. Educating girls improves the economic and social conditions of women. Educating girls eventually means better health outcomes for future generations. Providing girls with education increases their participation in the political activities in the country and makes them aware of social and economic rights.

Shakti was established to increase education and participation of rural girls in order to change their future. The community projects run by Shakti are initiated and led by girls for 1-2 years. Participants are led through a 14-session program in which they are asked to identify their dreams and aspirations and identify their rights in the community. The girls then develop their own initiatives on issues ranging from education to sanitation rights which help them engage with the community and build lasting connections with their peers.

In 2011, 179 community projects were implemented, which are estimated to have helped 27,000 women and girls in their community. Additionally, Shakti evaluations have shown a change in attitude in most of these girls towards repressive traditional norms. After the program, 84% girls decided to join schools or vocational programs to continue their education. Furthermore, 67% girls reported to resisting dropout and finishing school compared to 46% girls before the program. Perhaps the most significant impact is seen in the increase in confidence of rural girls. Last year, 66% girls have reported to being able to bring change to themselves, their families and their community compared to only 34% before the program.

Shakti, a much-needed empowerment program implemented by Aangan, has shown how prioritizing rural girls can help girls influence not only themselves but also their communities at large.

To read more about Aangan and Shakti, click here.

Flickr photograph by karathepirate.

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