National Girl Child Day 2022: Beti (Pandemic Se) Bachao, Beti (Pandemic Mein) Padhao

The Government of India and Ministry of Women and Child Development established 24th day of January every year as National Girl Child Day in 2008. The objective behind this initiative was to highlight and address the inequalities faced by girls in India and to ensure that they get equal opportunities and exposure as their male counterparts. This step was taken to bolster the Ministry’s flagship programme ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (BBBT).  The biggest challenge faced by our legislature has been to promote policies that support and strengthen the promotion of education as a necessity. Every development in the name of gender equality has been spearheaded by the need for education. For literacy can provide for financial independence, knowledge of one’s rights, and boost self-reliance. Education in sexual and reproductive health can avoid early or unwanted pregnancies, knowledge of menstrual hygiene, exposure to sanitary menstrual products and understanding the difference between myths and facts of all that’s a cultural taboo.

Even if achieving the goal of gender parity was a rocky road, we as a society were on one at a steady speed. The Covid pandemic came as ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, trying to take all that was achieved away.

Source: The quint

Books V/S Bhook

When the lockdown was first imposed in March 2020, the marginalized communities were hit the hardest. Daily wage workers, unregistered employees, contract workers; lost their jobs with no salary and insufficient savings. To have enough money for food, education took a back wheel in the list of priorities and more so the education of girls. Many parents from economically weaker sections of society favoured studies for sons and not their daughters.

For those who had enough for their daughters to continue studies but not virtually as they fell prey to the ‘digital divide’ and their girls to the ‘digital gender divide’. Many girls had to drop out of school and satisfy their quest for knowledge by stealing glances into their brother’s virtual education world if there was any.

Apart from the economic obstacle, the onus of sharing the increased household work with her mother was on the daughter. Chores after chores pushed them further into the unpaid care work that many women before them took upon themselves with a grain of salt.

Source: WeAreTeachers

The Paradox Of Health In A Pandemic

One of the government’s main objectives in achieving gender equality was to provide a comprehensive healthcare system that was also easily approachable. In their quest to attain fewer maternal mortality rates and hygienic menstrual practices in place, the government was met with the unprecedented effects of an overwhelmed healthcare environment. Everything came second to the novel coronavirus. Getting a vaccine was put on the mantle of the executive while affordable menstrual products lingered somewhere in the archives.

An economic slowdown tinkered down to almost every level of society. While the subsidized ration was being used to quell hunger, the thought of spending money on sanitary products won’t dare come to the mind of menstruators. What was lacking in the checklist of essential items were the lacunae that could lead to severe infections or even death if not used (as it was replaced by old-fashioned cloth, ash and leaves). Households that saw the entry of the coveted sanitary pads, even if in hushed tones, were left without it when its member was crumbling under the effects of a lockdown.

Source: New York Times

Safety And Privacy: A Delusion In Chaos

While a virtual education stowed children for the past two years. The entire journey was not without any traps. Classrooms on zoom meant that a child was a webpage away from distraction. In lieu of math, they could be calculating their chances of having met a potential ‘friend’. Predatory behaviour was curtailed on the streets but it was live and thriving in internet chat rooms. Parental supervision was blurred because the boundary between attending classes and talking to strangers was fluid. A child is always on a computer now. This increased the risk of child trafficking and flesh trade.

In the conservative household, a girl talking to a boy and getting caught for even exchanging notes had dire consequences for the girl. Underage girls were married off before news of their online ‘frolicking’ could even reach the neighbour’s ears. News of girls eloping with their ‘online’ friends was enough for some parents to completely cordon off their ties to a social media world. Many parents censored education as well owing to their own illiteracy if their daughters were to engage in scandalous activities right under their nose.

Source: FactorDaily

Revisiting The Objectives

While planning for the BBBT initiative the legislature had no foresight that they may have to deal with a global pandemic (literally no one thought about it). Instead of finger-pointing or blame-shifting, the most productive way to address these problems would be to learn from our mistakes.

Our education system hit a cosmic shift by going from in-person to a virtual format. It was the first experiment and exposed many lacunas, especially the ‘gender digital device’. This is one more objective for the Digital India movement to adopt, to make virtual education easier to afford and reach.

Our hospitals and healthcare system were in peril when the pandemic struck. Menstrual and maternal health paled in comparison to the oxygen slump that preoccupied the healthcare industries. One step in ensuring the usage of hygienic period products could be to subsidize them and promote ingenious period products.

Our cyber security agencies and administration need to make sure to have proper filters in place to weed out people who might be wandering into a child’s private life. They need to systematically phase them out. Our government can have legislation in place to ensure stricter punishments to perpetrators of cybercrime.

In addition to these, authorities need to tail the pattern of children (especially girls) dropping out due to financial strain and make it possible for the unfortunate to exercise their basic and fundamental rights.

Cover Illustration: Hindustan Times


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