Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
The Government of Nepal has accorded high priority for girls' education through its policies and plans in recent times. This emphasis has resulted in some positive changes, specifically in increasing girls' enrollment in schools as observed in the recent years. Nonetheless, girls continue to face systemic hurdles in schools, hampering the quality of education they receive for a number of reasons. Thus, there is a need for collective efforts to deal with this persisting difficulty at different levels.
The first obstacle is lack of girls' toilets in the majority of schools across the country. In this context, girls face difficulty during periods that usually begins from the age of 11 to 13. As a result, girls tend to drop out of schools, directly hampering their educational attainment. Meanwhile, even if schools have girl friendly toilets in place, they are in need of ways to use them properly.
In one of the schools in Kailali district, girl friendly toilets were constructed and mensuration pads were availed for them. But toilets got blocked after some time because the pads were directly dumped into them. As a result, the toilet had to be dismantled. Learning from this experience, the school has constructed incinerator for disposing the used pads with the support of Mercy Corps. The girls should be taught and trained to use and dispose the pads. This could be a lesson for other schools as well.
Secondly, the unequal power relationship prevalent in our society is exercised even in schools making girls perform poorly. Because girls are assigned with inferior social position culturally, they perceive themselves of belonging to the lower status in comparison to boys. Consequently, girls are less interactive in the classroom processes, and participate less in school activities. For instance, in case they are asked questions in the class, they are less proactive to answer immediately even if they know it. This sort of hesitation and inferiority complex has serious implications in girls' education.
Thirdly, girls begin to participate less in the higher grades in comparison to primary grades. At the early grades, both girls and boys equally interact among themselves as well as with teachers. They are ready to raise their hands and ask questions to teachers, share their opinions and do volunteer to guide friends. But when they enter into middle school level, they gradually start to speak less in the classroom. When they reach upper grades – class nine and ten, they become more silent, internalising the prevalent social cultural norms and values. In fact, some of them gradually get inferior grades in academic side and are reluctant in taking part in various activities such as games, sports, debate completion and so on.
Fourthly, as there are more male teachers in higher grades, they conduct classroom process from their perspective often using male centric terminologies unconsciously. For instance, the government data show that the proportion of male teachers increases gradually from primary, lower secondary to secondary levels (53, 72 and 82 per cent respectively) whereas the proportion of female teachers decreases gradually from primary, lower secondary to secondary levels (42, 27 and 18 per cent respectively). It is generally accepted that girls learn better with female teachers, specifically subjects dealing with sexual and reproductive health, etc. Thus, the overwhelming majority of male teachers often makes girls feel demotivated as they see no role models in schools.
In dealing with these difficulties, it is important to change our mind-set and attitude. The perception that girls are inferior to boys emerges from our long held unequal power relationship in the patriotic social system. In fact, this is unjustifiable in the present world. And the cultural practices that subjugates and considers girls as second class citizen needs to be corrected. In no way can the girls be inferior to boys.
So the focus should be on involving girls in the classroom process equally, instead of giving opportunities to boys only for responding or asking questions. The teachers should encourage girls' participation in the teaching learning process and make sure that girls face no difficulty in articulating their views and opinions. This sort of initiative is likely to empower girls gradually, leading to better performance in the learning process.
School as an institution and system needs to support girls appropriately and adequately. In particular, schools should focus on having appropriate support mechanism for girls. For instance, having girl-friendly toilets, sanitary pad facility, incinerator, etc. In the absence of such facilities, girl dropout rate becomes more acute as observed across the country.
(Budhathoki is an Education Coordinator at Mercy Corps Nepal and can be reached at
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