The rise of girl power in Rajasthan

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Bauri Malavat was married when she was two-and-a-half years old. But, now that she is educated, her ambitions for her own two-year-old daughter are very different.

Ms Malavat was born in a village in Rajasthan, north India, the daughter of an illiterate mother. In keeping with local tradition, she was married as a young child and went to live with her husband in her late teens. But her father, a teacher, insisted that his daughter should be educated. So she completed school and now works as a police officer.

Suman Bhatnagar, a Unicef project officer, says that this has dramatically affected expectations Ms Malavat, 24, has for Ritu.

"She wants to get her daughter educated," Ms Bhatnagar says. "She will ensure she gets good qualifications, goes to university. And she is very determined that Ritu will get married only when she is 21 years old. She's prepared to fight with her in-laws if there is any resistance."

In India, where only 65 per cent of women are literate (compared with 75 per cent of men), the government is keen to promote girls' education.

Primary schools have been ordered to introduce separate toilets for girls, and all now provide a midday meal for pupils.

The government is also seeking to recruit more female teachers and has set a national target of 50 per cent. "It's a vicious cycle," said Ms Bhatnagar. "If you don't have educated girls, you don't have female teachers."

Education also provides women with an independent income. Ms Malavat's power to determine her daughter's future is aided by the fact that she is the only regular earner in the family. Her husband, who is illiterate, does not work. As a result, she controls household expenditure and was able to ensure that her immunisations were up-to-date when she was pregnant. Ritu has also been fully inoculated against childhood disease.

"Bauri is a role model, an icon in her village," said Ms Bhatnagar. "Girls look at her, and see options for themselves. It's really made a difference in her community."

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