Since the outbreak more than five months ago, and the global lockdown over three months ago, the COVID-19 virus has taught us several lessons, the largest amongst those is realising our own vulnerabilities. Economies are crashing, there is major financial insecurity, countries are becoming increasingly conservative and hostile, and vulnerable populations worldwide are facing the brunt of the pandemic.
With each passing day, the humanitarian crisis of millions living impoverished and vulnerable lives across the world increases. However, the pandemic can prove to be an immense opportunity for women and girls. It is an opportunity to balance the scales- an opportunity to overhaul the existing system and to allow for a better, brighter, and most importantly, a more equitable future. The first step that we need to take, to achieve that goal is to let the vulnerable communities speak for themselves – about their problems, their challenges, and their aspirations.
In India, 3 out of 4 women over the age of 15 are neither working nor seeking work.
Female Literacy Rate in India is 22%, lower than the rest of the world.
In 2018, UN Women initiated the development of a Second Chance Education and Vocational Learning (SCE) programme that would provide marginalized women who have lost out on an education with pathways to employment through a tailored learn-to-earn approach. Despite the increasing investments in access to quality education and specifically girls’ education, half a billion women are still illiterate worldwide.
Grassroots efforts like that of the Second Chance Education Programme (SCE) are critical in addressing the problem on a granular level. In a short amount of time, the team has embarked the journey towards a better tomorrow for our women.
The following are accounts of women, trained under SCE, who have come out to be an inspiration for other women and young girls to dream, achieve and to realise their full potential.
“I had stopped considering schooling to be an option, but now that I’m pursuing education again, I’m building socio-political opinions and believe Gender-Sensitive Education is important for women rights” – Khusbu Kumari, Gaya- Bihar
Khusbu Kumari hails from Dohari village, part of the Manpur Block in Gaya district of Bihar. She is eighteen years old. Like many girls of her age, she has not been attending school for the past couple of years. The financial burden of education,
coupled with the lack of awareness and conservativism against educating women, have kept her out of school. .
Khusbu belongs to the SC(Schedule Caste) category and opportunities are relatively limited for her. Her father works as a community mobiliser and her mother takes care of the home. She is the eldest of the siblings, which means that she has to bear most of the responsibilities in the household – from taking care of the young ones to helping her mother in the day-to-day chores.
( Khusbu Kumari studying at home, preparing her notes and question & answers from NIOS study Materials)
Before the Second Chance Education program was introduced in her village by PRAN, Khusbu had practically stopped considering schooling to be an option.
When the PRAN team launched the SCE program in Dohari village, they persuaded Khusbu to enrol for the NIOS program and complete her secondary and senior secondary education. Before getting enrolled, she had trouble reading books and preparing notes for subjects. But her interest and conviction got her through. She enrolled with the NIOS programme and began her education afresh.
Some of the things, Khusbu likes most about this program is the hands-on approach the teachers take with their students, the freedom to choose the subjects of their liking, and the unlimited attempts to clear the exam. With hard work and dedication, she managed to involve herself actively in class and ask questions on pertinent topics.
It has now been two months since Khusbu has started her classes, and the results are fantastic. Despite COVID-19 hampering classes, she has been receiving material from NIOS, which she dedicatedly studies and learns. She has gotten significantly better at her subjects, adept at reading, and proficient in making notes. Her subjects include Hindi, Social Science, and Home Sciences.
She is also forming socio-political opinions. She believes; “Gender-responsive education is important because it provides one with a new way of thinking, concerning women’s rights and education”. Her journey is testament to the fact: she has gone from being unable to read coherently, to reading her entire textbook effortlessly. All because she took the first step towards the path resuming her education.
“I’ll rise above all, for my mother and myself”.. – Pramila, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Pramila’s life took a turn for the worse when her father was murdered following a family dispute. She was a child at the time, completing her 5th-grade education. She had to quit school and bean supplementing her family’s income as her mother, the sole breadwinner, needed a helping hand to sustain the family. Instead of continuing her education, This was a big shock to Pramila and she found herself entering the workforce, just like the millions of ill-fortuned children forced to work even before reaching their teen years.
At this tender age, Pramila migrated from Assam to Jaisalmer a district in Rajasthan state. There she began working as a domestic helper, earning a meagre salary of rupees five thousand a month. She would send three thousand to her mother back in the village and sustain herself on the balance amount. Pramila’s four siblings had been married off and left home – there was no one left to take care of their mother. At that point in her life, sustenance, both for herself and her mother, was the only goal in Pramila’s life.
However, later an opportunity presented itself in Pramila’s life in the form of the Second Chance Programme, supported by UN Women, India. Her landlord, who heard of it, persuaded her to pursue the program. Pramila expressed her enthusiasm right from the beginning and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Her goal was to complete her matriculation, for that is the conduit to a better life for her.
Pramila’s determination and effort paid off when she got accepted to the NIOS 10th grade class. She got a second chance to complete her education and secure a better, brighter future for her mother and herself.
Presently, Pramila spends her time reading and writing to improve her skills, while also continuing to work as a domestic helper. Her landlord lends a hand in her studies. She had also received a study kit, comprised of books and stationery, from the Manjari foundation (the implementing partner for the Second Chance Education Programme in this area) to support her. She is thrilled to have received it and is working diligently towards her goal – that of appearing for and acing her exams. Life has thrown many hardships at Pramila, but she is determined to prove that she can rise above them all.
“Determination and Persistence do pay off”. – Yashoda, Baran, Rajasthan
There is no obstacle big enough when one’s determination and courage persists and prevails. This is a lesson easier repeated than performed. Yashoda Sahariya of Baran district in Rajasthan is a living example of this lesson. Innumerable obstacles came in her life, but she managed to overcome each of them to achieve the goal that has always been closest to her heart: ‘Completing her Education’.
Yashoda was afflicted with polio when she was 10 years old. The disease left her crippled and unable to walk. At the age of 17, she was married off to Mr Bablu Sahariya who was several years elder to her. At 28 years of age, she is the mother of two – Hemant, aged 12, and Kuldeep, aged 5. She lives in a joint family with her husband, children, and in-laws.
Education has always been Yashoda’s passion. Even after marriage, she managed to remain connected with the education space to improve the lives of children. Having completed her primary education, she managed to work in association with a local school where she taught younger students. Her income of Rs. 8500 was supplemented by her husband’s, who works as a truck driver. Life hadn’t been easy on Yashoda but she managed to persist regardless.
After marriage; she persisted on educating herself. Aided by her supportive husband, she managed to finish her secondary education post marriage. She enrolled in the NIOS 12th grade twice but failed on account of Math – the subject had always been particularly difficult for her. Her confidence was subdued, but she persisted nonetheless. With the intervention of the Second Chance Program implemented by the Manjari Foundation and supported by Pradan and UN Women, she found a means to succeed in her goal.
Yashoda began attending meetings held by the Manjari Foundation. Led by Ms Sadiya Anjum, she began to be influenced by the motivational speeches and finally, ended up paying Rs. 1700 for enrolling for the NIOS program. She is currently studying Hindi, Home Science, Environment Education, Painting, and Economics. Home Science is a particular favourite of hers, one that she believes will pave the way for better opportunities in the future.
Inspired by his wife’s activities, Yashoda’s husband also got himself enrolled in the NIOS 10th grade program. He wants to secure a government job in the future. A single opportunity in the form of the Second Chance Education programme is leading to a complete upheaval in Yashoda’s family, as both husband and wife strive towards better opportunities and a better life for themselves and their children.
“Fighting the Odds for becoming an Entrepreneur” – Gita, Rayagada, Odisha
A little over 39 kilometres from the Rayagada district in the state of Odisha resides Gita Nimal – a 31-year-old single woman. Gita suffered the same fate that is passed down to most girls in her tribe- a deprivation of social and economic rights. In the past, she has primarily been dependent on her brother, who forced her to drop her primary education and start working as a labourer. The socio-economic and cultural systems were such that she had to face many barriers to create a life for herself where she called the shots.
When the Second Chance Education Programme started arranging meetings at the village level, Gita showed keen interest. She saw an opportunity to further hone her skills to start an entrepreneurial venture of her own. Her goal remained to create a stable future for herself. Through the support she received from SCE ground cadres, she explored options in farming. She decided to apply her skills from being a labourer to build a better understating of agriculture. Through SCE training in ground-level planning and concept sharing meetings, she better understood this new career path. Gita soon understood that to gain financial stability and increase her income she needed to go beyond the everyday options of sowing Kharif and Rabi crops (seasonal crops). She realized to generate year-round livelihood options, she’d have to adopt a different approach.
Through the SCE programme, she was introduced to floriculture and use of Agri-tech, and Bio-organic fertilizer’s that could help in growing flowers. The knowledge provided in this training has built Gita’s capacity as an entrepreneur and transformed her into a skilled floriculture farmer.
Gita, now affectionately called Gita ‘didi’ (elder sister), has become a gold standard of excellence for her community. Her marigold farm has now become a prototypical example for many in her tribe and village. Over the last few months, she has grown over 60,000 marigold flowers; which she further sells to the local markets. Her faith, resilience and constant battle to better herself and her skill-set have transformed her into a successful entrepreneur. In a society that often looks down upon women who stray from the traditional path of marrying young and starting a family, Gita defied the odds to question the social fabric that she had been bought up in. By applying her skills and ground knowledge through the SCE training, she proved to women and girls across her community that they can re-create their lives with the right support; all one needs is the strength to keep going and the belief that a Second Chance is right around the corner.
Written By: Zoya Khanday, Consultant Communications, UN Women India
Under the guidance of Kanta Singh, Country Program Manager, UN Women
Supported and compiled by: Sana Fatima, Consultant, Second Chance Education, UN Women India