The pandemic has negatively impacted many aspects of life, especially education. In this realm, among those facing serious repercussions are girl children from marginalised communities.
According to a Right to Education Forum policy brief released in January this year, ten million girls in India could drop out of secondary school due to COVID-19. Every year on this day we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child to empower and amplify the voices of girls around the world.
Although the ingrained attitude towards inequality cannot be changed overnight, there are a few who have taken up the responsibility to promote gender equality. Vasant Kunj-based Devanshi Ranjan is one such individual who has made it her mission to constantly generate awareness about the importance of girl child education.
Picking up the baton
In our country, women and girl children are traditionally viewed as paraya dhan (translated in English as estranged wealth). In fact, there are Indian families that believe there is no point in providing education to girls.
“I studied the increase in school dropout rates. The gendered impact of the pandemic put female students especially at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence,” says Ranjan (21), a recently graduated Political Science student from Lady Shri Ram College for Women.
She has been working with the Ladli Foundation Trust (LFT)—a non-profit organisation that works towards achieving gender equality and prioritising women’s health and well-being in developing countries—for the last four years. Ranjan’s area of focus working with the LFT was educating the girl child.
Education plays an important role in the overall development of an individual. Its lack, therefore, leads to the exploitation of women on a daily basis. Ranjan’s LFT 2020 initiative Pathanshala aimed at educating the masses and providing basic education to children, especially girls, by conducting reward-based competitions to develop their interest in studies.
This project focuses both on children and their parents, to motivate them to send their girls to schools. “My experience here has changed my worldview. When I joined the field, worked with grassroots organisations, and saw the theories [I had read] come to life, I truly learnt to understand our society and what needed to be done to make it better for girls.”
Hope for the future
For her humanitarian work, Ranjan also received The Diana Award-a recognition given to a person aged between 9 and 25 years for their social action or humanitarian work-this year.
Awarded in the name of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Ranjan remarks how the honour brought a sense of responsibility in carrying forward the princess’ legacy.
“For me, the award is a form of recognition for the work that we do, for which I am highly grateful. Even the slightest impact that we have on people to fight for gender equality is the reward,” she says.
Along with this, Ranjan has also co-founded Project MicDrop with her friends Gayatri Ahuja and Diya Joseph. This initiative discusses issues on gender and its intersectional facets.
Project MicDrop is a facilitator towards enabling women, trans and non-binary people to exert agency, freely express and take pride in their respective identities.
Talking about the International Day of the Girl Child, Ranjan mentions, “We need to work towards a day where the International Day of the Girl Child isn’t just one out of 365 days. It isn’t just a commemoration for people to launch projects and activities only to forget about it a day later. It should be accepted and exercised as a lived reality. Girl child education shouldn’t just be encouraged but also be normative and accepted.”