SEATTLE — In the Indian regions of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a nonprofit organization called Educate Girls is trying to change the community mindset that keeps girls from attending schools.
Safeena Husain, who founded Educate Girls in 2007, noticed that parents in Rajasthan were not letting their daughters go to school due to ingrained sexism within the culture.
In Rajasthan, it is the general practice for girls to not be given an education, while boys are sent to school. Girls are usually married off young or help with household chores. About 51 percent of girls in Rajasthan are married before age 18.
In order to address this problem, Educate Girls established Team Balika (balika meaning “girl” in Hindi). Team Balika is a group made up of young, educated volunteers who understand the importance of education and are passionate about educating girls. Sixty percent of the volunteers are men and 40 percent are women.
Team Balika’s main purpose is to find girls who are out of school and enroll them back into the school system. This often involves going door to door to parents and convincing them of the importance of letting their daughter get an education.
Persuading a family to let a girl go to school is challenging, so Team Balika also works to acquire support for its mission from village leaders, headmasters and teachers. Eventually, with the help of respected voices in the community, Team Balika is successfully able to convince families about the importance of a girl’s education.
Team Balika also works within schools, to make sure that girls who come back to school stay in school. They offer support and guidance to the girls, and make sure the schools they are enrolled in are “girl-friendly.” For example, they check whether the school has bathrooms for girls and whether it is a safe environment.
Team Balika also runs a Girls’ Council in schools called Bal Sabhas, which helps girls develop leadership and communication skills.
Besides all of this, Team Balika also constantly raises awareness among people about the communal and individual benefits of educating girls. For example, when a girl is educated, family income goes up by about 10 percent for each additional year of schooling. Also, educated women are less likely to be trafficked, get AIDS and HIV and be subject to domestic violence.
Today, Educate Girls works in more than 8,000 villages across Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and has enrolled 150,000 girls in school.
People living in communities where Educate Girls operates report that the nonprofit has brought about many positive changes. Enrollment of girls in schools has increased, girls have become more self-confident and their decision-making abilities have improved. In addition, people from the community have begun to be more involved in school activities. Educate Girls has also greatly reduced the amount of gender bias in communities.
– Anna Gargiulo