The recent documentary by Leslee Udwin, India’s Daughter, not only highlighted the miserable situation of women but also exposed the heavy influence of patriarchy and regressive gender bias in India. As per a poll by Thomson Reuters, India is the worst place for women in the list of G20 nations, positioned right below Saudi Arabia, where women are considered invisible with no right to choice, let alone freedom.
India is home to 113 million adolescent girls, which is nearly 10 per cent of the entire population. While the country is focused on youth empowerment, especially girl empowerment, for a better future, the reality is that girls are often neglected. They are subject to violence and abuse; their needs for sanitation and health are ignored; very little is invested in their economic potential.
In 2011, when Dasra launched the report on empowering adolescent girls, ‘Owning Her Future’, there were many concerns and questions surrounding this topic. We were shocked to learn that philanthropists were hesitant about supporting initiatives related to girl empowerment. It took a lot of work on our part to convince them of the urgent need to support this issue and other related matters such as sanitation, sexual and reproductive health, and mobilizing communities.
Adolescent girls as a beneficiary group have received very little attention in India. Most programmes focus on conventional issues such as education and health for children or older women. Adolescent girls are frequently overlooked when it comes to programme design and focus. Philanthropic capital can create greater impact for this neglected group and also play a pivotal role in speeding up development.
Evidence suggests that an additional year of schooling for an adolescent girl reduces the likelihood of child marriage by six times, reduces infant mortality for her future offspring by 5-10 per cent and increases her income by 10 per cent. With better employment opportunities, these girls are also more likely to send their children to school, thereby offering a cyclical impact. It is clear that girls can be essential change agents who break the cycle of poverty and lead the nation to better development and progress.
Research suggests that investing in girls can add $100 billion to the Indian economy and this is even more important in view of recent focus on the girl child and the new campaign on Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save a Girl – Educate a Girl) aimed at addressing female foeticide and eliminating gender discrimination. There is therefore an urgent need to focus on this invisible group and empower them. This will then translate into better futures for women, children and families, thereby creating intergenerational impact. The goal is to transform the future of India by empowering our girls and we need to act now and act fast!
Shrikant Ayyangar is a communications associate at Dasra.