SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA – Safina Akther, a 15-year-old from Pattan in northern Indian-administered Kashmir, works six days a week on a carpet loom in her family’s home.
“I don’t think this work will leave me,” she says.
Safina says her parents can’t afford to send both her and her brother, Mohammad Yasin, to school. So only her brother gets to go, while she stays home and weaves carpets to help support her family.
“In the heart of hearts, I wish to go to school,” she says. “But I don’t share this feeling with anyone in my family. I know this isn’t possible due to less income at home.”
In addition to socio-economic circumstances, gender is also a barrier to education for girls in rural Kashmir. Families don’t encourage girls to go to school or to continue their studies, Safina says. Instead, they say that girls can benefit their families more by caring for siblings, assisting with household chores and performing crafts such as weaving carpets.
Girls, women and education advocates say that poverty, household obligations and prioritization of boys’ education keep girls out of school or force them to drop out, especially in rural areas. But this is slowly changing, as a new generation of mothers is determined to see their daughters pursue the education they didn’t receive. The government and nongovernmental organizations are also pushing for mandatory and quality education.
The rural literacy rate is just 48 percent in rural areas versus 72 percent in urban areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, according to the Planning Commission’s 2003 Jammu and Kashmir Development Report. The report estimated male literacy at 66 percent and female literacy at 42 percent.
Abdul Hamid, a senior teacher at a government middle school in Sumbal, a town in Bandipora district, says that dropping out is more common among girls than boys.
“Poverty, household jobs and income-generating units are the reasons responsible,” Hamid says.
Mohammad Sharif Bhat, the state program manager for Save the Children, an international children’s rights organization working in Kashmir, says dropouts among girls increase with age.
“Dropout increases among girls as they move from primary to secondary school level,” he says.
He attributes these dropouts to multiple reasons.
“School and nonschool factors are responsible for dropout rate,” Bhat says. “School factors include nonaccessibility, lack of basic infrastructure like toilets and behavior of teachers, whereas nonschool factors include family/community factors, parental attitude, community perception and sibling care.”
Shareefa Bano, 16, a student from Sopore, a town in northern Kashmir, says that water scarcity hurts women’s education most.
For girls in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, fetching drinking water for their family is a routine chore for girls, Bano says. Families consider this chore more important than their studies.
Even if it is financially feasible for a family to send their daughter to school, her family expects her to collect water before she leaves for the day. Consequently, the girl will often reach school late or fall behind