Gender disparities in India's educational system and the role of UNICEF

Scientific Essay, 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Education in India
2.1. Main difficulties in reforming education

3. UNICEF in India
3.1. Building Back Better Programme UNICEF
3.2. The role of female teachers

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

Gender disparities in India’s educational system and the role of UNICEF

“Take a drive through New Delhi, and you can’t imagine how to bring some children into school. In some ways they are invisible to the system and in other ways they are very visible. They are destitute. They sleep on the sidewalks. They stop the traffic and ask for money. It’s just such a long way for them to travel to get into the system.” (UNICEF, GAP)

1. Introduction

Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today. Its forms are both subtle and blatant and its impact on development profound. But it is “so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that it is almost invisible.” (Bunch, Char­lotte) Fear of reprisal, censorship of sexual issues, the shame and blame of those violated, unquestioning acceptance of tradition and the stranglehold of male dominion all play their part. Inequities, driven by overwhelming poverty, affect both male and female children in the developing world. Yet cultural traditions, scant economic resources and limited opportunities rather marginalize girls, while young boys usually have better access to health care, nutrition and education.

The push for gender parity in education led international agencies, governments, NGOs, pro­fessional bodies and the private sector convened at two major world events to give the highest priority to Universal Primary Education (UPE). Girls’ education was identified as a devel­opment tool at the 1990 World Summit for Children, when the global community agreed to the Goals for Children and Development in the 1990s, including the demand for “universal access to basic education and achievement of primary education by at least 80 per cent of primary school-age children through formal schooling or non-formal education of comparable learning standard, with emphasis on reducing the current disparities between boys and girls.” ( A decade later, the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, focused on gender parity and equality in education and the Millennium Summit agreed on the Millennium Devel­opment Goals, which acknowledged the central role of girls’ education in development.[1] (UNICEF, GAP)

For UNICEF, which played a central role in both meetings, 1990 became the start of a decade in which education became a high programming priority. This included increased inter-secto­ral work and a broadened definition of education that expanded its scope from traditional aca­demic study to life skills, peace and conflict resolution, rights and empowerment. Getting children back to school was considered to be as vital as interventions in health, nutrition and water and sanitation. Still the situation of India's children is marked by diversity, persistent disparities and the challenge of enormous numbers. Despite assertions to the contrary, in 2001 India alone had 26.8 million primary school-age children not in primary school. Gender di­sadvantages in India are further deeply compounded by considerations of caste and class.[2] (UNICEF, GAP)

In India, the history of the educational system is complex, marked by deep debate and many contradictions between policy and practices and between laws and their enforcement. Though India’s present constitutional and policy framework on education has been built on premises that acknowledge and contest gender discrimination[3] the right to education nevertheless “fil­ters through mind-boggling administrative machinery that perpetuates exclusion.” (Sur, Ma­lini, 267) Over the years, the absence of political initiative and funding accompanied by changes in political control has hindered steady progress toward these goals. The region is becoming the hub of technology with the Indian Institutes of Technology providing world-class education to thousands while over 190 million Indian women remain illiterate.[4] (Stacki, Sandra)

2. Education in India

India’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and its signing of the World Fit for Children obligation set a framework for committed action by the government and civil society at large.[5] ( The Constitutional amendment bill of December 2002 had made ‘free and compulsory education’ a fundamental right for all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years, which led to the Education for all campaign of the Indian government, the national program to achieve universalization of elementary education. (UN Press Release, Second Periodic Report of India)

National aim in the educational sector

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India stands today at a crucial crossroad in its path towards greater social progress and actu­alization of children’s rights, both of which are inextricably linked to each other. The National State report to the Committee on Rights of the Child notes that India is “fully committed to the universalization of elementary education, by not only making it a fundamental right of all its children, but also as a key strategy to address the problems arising from poverty.” India has 400 million children below the age of 18 years, which is the largest child population in the world. The State considers it a “matter of utmost priority that its children (...) receive educa­tion and develop skills, so that they can realize their complete potential and effectively par­ticipate and contribute to the social, cultural and economic life in the nation.” (UN Press Re­lease, Second Periodic Report of India)

Progress is visible in almost all development sectors. In 2001 the absolute number of non-lit­erates dropped for the first time[6] and gross enrolment in Government-run primary schools increased from over 19 million in the 1950s to 114 million by 2001. School attendance is im­proving since more children than ever between the ages of 6 and 14 are attending school across the country. The country has been a fertile ground for grassroots success stories in edu­cation and empowerment, some of which have been linked to the Total Literacy Campaign Program and more recently to the 93rd Constitutional Amendment. (Sur, Malini, 267)

Ambitious Goals, Pragmatic Action

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Source: UNICEF Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education, The GAP Report Part One, New York 2005

But especially among girls the rise in enrolment was not matched by a rise in learning, reten­tion or completion of school. Yet little real change has occurred despite the clear articulation by Indian educational policy and planning of what is necessary to create democratically structured programs that will facilitate gender sensitivity and equity.[7] Disparities are striking, with low status of women as a major barrier. (Stacki, Sandra)

“There is a large gap between India’s innovative and forward-looking laws and policy goals and its rigid and bureaucratic educational practices that are mired in structures and institutions of the British colonial system and of the ancient and patriarchal culture of India.”(Stacki, Sandra)

Girls and women are often shackled by gender roles and outdated traditions, making gender disparity evident. Almost twice as many girls as boys are pulled out of school, or never sent to school, especially if belonging to marginalize social and economic groups. For many girls who are pulled out of school at age ten or eleven, the future means working in the fields or on road construction sites, earning less than half a US dollar a day. ( india/overview.html)

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2.1. Main difficulties in reforming education

When countries are mired in debt and large portions of their budgets go to loan repayment, education is often the first casualty of cost cutting. Dilapidated schools are not fixed or re­placed, roads are not built or maintained, books and other supplies go missing, and school fees soar. There are also concerns relating to teacher training, the quality of the curriculum, assessment of learning achievements and the efficacy of school management. (UNICEF, GAP)

Enormous challenges for reforming education in India are marked disparities between social groups, between sexes, and among different income levels. While school may be free for Scheduled Caste children, parents may not be able to afford the most basic supplies, like a pencil or notebook. Under such circumstances girls are more likely than boys to lose educa­tional opportunities due to poverty. Other costs such as lost income or household labor, also derail girls’ chances of attending school. If household money or chores are needed, usually the girls are required to support household work and care for younger siblings or ill family members. Often poor girls land in paid child labor force or are thrown into sex trade and sweatshops, making child protection a major challenge in the region.[8] (UNICEF, GAP)

“It has become increasingly obvious that many children used for labor and sexual ex­ploitation are lured from particular racial or social groups, rather than from the well-en­dowed groups in power. In South Asia, it is the children of the ‘untouchables’ who are most likely often victimized in child labor situations.” (Special Rapporteur report 1994 to the UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Background Note on Children’s Right)

Early marriage for girls is pervasive in India, including pregnancy in early puberty. Her edu­cation often stops once she is married or pregnant and in many places, official or informal educational policies even prohibit married or pregnant girls from attending school. These regulations create illiterate mothers whose children are more than twice as likely to be out of school as children whose mothers have some education. (UNICEF, GAP)


[1] Worldwide, the commitment to is stronger than ever before. The Dakar Framework for Action plots a course towards ‘Education for All (EFA) 2015’, with a key interim commitment to eliminate gender disparities in pri­mary and secondary education by 2005. These commitments have been reinforced in the Millenium Develop­ment Goals (MDGs), and the International Development targets (IDTs).

[2] UN monitoring bodies have periodically communicated concerns on the right to education in India and reported large-scale violations, indicating extreme interstate, rural/urban and gender/caste inequities in education. The EFA Global Monitoring Report places India ‘at risk’ of not even reaching the goal of gender parity, both in pri­mary and secondary education even by 2015. Both the Committee on CRC and CEDAW noted that Supreme Court directives on education were not being followed, which was also impinging upon girl children’s right to access education. Even enrolment ratios for India show extreme disparities – for instance, enrolment rates for Scheduled Caste and tribal children are much lower than national averages. Likewise, the retention rate also reflects gender imbalances. (Sur, Malini, 268)

[3] In 2002, India passed a constitutional amendment on compulsory education requiring all children between 6 and 14 to finish five years of primary school. (UNICEF, GAP)

[4] India is the world’s second most populous country, with current estimates of over one billion people. Women’s national literacy rates remain at 42 per cent (69 per cent for men) and still constitute over 68 per cent of those with either no or very minimal education. (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2000)

[5] In the light of domestic compliance to the international law, the Constitution of India significantly requires the state to foster respect for international law and obligations emanating from international treaties (Article 51). Further, the Supreme Court has also emphasized the binding nature of international obligations. (Sur, Malini, 267)

[6] The literacy rate rose from 52% in 1991 to 65% in 2001. (Sur, Malini, 267)

[7] Constituional safeguards that determine women’s right to education also guarantee women equality before law (Article 14), the right to life and liberty (Article 21) and forbid discrimination (Article 15). The state is further obliged to make special provisions for women and children, and for children within the age of 6-14. Education is now a fundamental right through a constitutional amendment (93rd Constitutional Amendment 2001).

[8] There are estimated to be more than 12 million child laborers in India. Most have never been to school or have dropped out before completing primary school. In Bihar, Nagaland, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, more than 60 per cent girls dropped out before completing their first five years of education. (

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Gender disparities in India's educational system and the role of UNICEF
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict)
European Master Programme
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ISBN (Book)
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The history of India's educational system is complex and marked by many contradictions between policy and practices and between laws and their enforcement. While India is becoming the hub of technology providing world-class education to thousands, millions of children remain illiterate. UNICEF focuses on the poorest and most disadvantaged communities and to ensure that women and children are able to access basic services of educational facilities. Single spaced
Gender, India, UNICEF, European, Master, Programme
Quote paper
Thorsten Volberg (Author), 2006, Gender disparities in India's educational system and the role of UNICEF, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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