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Speak Up, Girl Child: Rajasthan Mothers Want Daughters to be Assertive to Avoid Exploitation – Study

Speak Up, Girl Child: Rajasthan Mothers Want Daughters to be Assertive to Avoid Exploitation – Study

Sitara Devi of Barh Thaulai village does not want her 17-year-old daughter to be cowed down by her in-laws when she gets married next year.

Since her daughter Shanno’s marriage got fixed, Sitara has been tutoring her about the intricacies of married life, including tips on how to be assertive.

“We have suffered because we could never speak up before our in-laws even if we knew we were being exploited. But I don’t want my daughter to suffer the same way. I have educated my daughter enough to enable her to decide what is wrong and what is right,” Sitara said.

This is one example of a slow but perceptible change in this state, where mothers want their daughters to be aggressive to guard against exploitation, a recent survey has revealed.

The first survey to study the “attitudinal differences towards girl children” in selected districts in six north Indian states (Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan), in 2007, also found mothers wanted their sons to be polite and obedient.

At the same time, they wanted daughters to be “forceful” so that they were not suffocated after marriage. The study found that the girls felt they should not yield to improper demands.

The project, conceptualised on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee of Women’s Studies and Development Centre, University of Delhi, was conducted by the Social Policy Research Institute (SPRI) in Jaipur district. Its aim was to analyse the change in attitude towards the girl child.

The report, that came out in February, will serve as a roadmap to formulate policies for the girl child.

The findings are based on the views of 1,200 respondents – 400 girls between 13 and 18 years of age and their parents – said Manish Tiwari, the joint director of the institute.

Seema Singh, 40, of Chaunp village in Chaksu tehsil, has three children – two daughters and a son. Although the yearning for a son made her go for a third child, she does not want to differentiate between her daughters and son.

Seema’s husband Ram Singh, a small-time farmer, agrees, saying they would not compromise on the education or health of their daughters.

In Rajasthan, the attitude towards daughters has often been one of indifference and neglect, which have sprung from deep-rooted prejudices. Many upper-class families were reported to have been involved in the killing of baby girls.

The survey found the most perceptible change in the education of children. Earlier, the son would often be educated at the cost of the daughter. But now, in case of a financial crunch or home emergency, the child is educated depending on the respective performances of the boy and girl.

The report said parents favoured education for both boys and girls up to the college level.

Of the 400 girls, 88 per cent were attending school.

According to the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) in Rajasthan, the percentage of girls (age group 15 to 49) who completed 10 years of education was just 12 per cent.

A big change was found in the age of marriage. Among girls, 59.75 per cent preferred marriage above 21 years of age, 46.5 per cent mothers and 42.25 per cent fathers preferred marriage around 18 years in a state where the female literacy rate was 43.9 per cent according to the 2001 census.

According to the NFHS-3, at least 57.1 per cent women were married by 18, down from 68.3 per cent in the NFHS-2 conducted in 1998-99.

Shikha Wadhwa, the representative of Unicef in Rajasthan, said: “Yes, a change is definitely visible. Now, villagers believe education is the key to becoming empowered and are sending daughters to school.”

Take Congress Kanwar, 14, the poster girl of Unicef in Rajasthan, who fought against an early marriage and a tradition-bound society to go to school in a remote village in Jhalawar district.

Kanwar’s three brothers went to school but she could not, even after a pathshala was opened by Unicef in her village.

She fought against a proposal for engagement. She threatened to call police, using the knowledge she had acquired during a school trip to a police station.

The study found that 76.75 per cent mothers and 84.25 per cent fathers felt the status of girls had improved. Only 7 per cent mothers and 2.25 per cent fathers thought it had deteriorated.

Source: The Telegraph India – 7 April 2008

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