Women have faced discriminations for hundreds of years, and the issue is still prevalent today. People from various nations have and are continuously addressing root causes of inequality faced by women, and the prolonged fight for gender-equality does not seem to end. The discriminations faced by women come in various forms such as age, disability, sexual preference, ethnicity, and religion. For girls, education goes hand-in-hand when talking about discrimination. Countries like India and Nepal fall short on female literacy and in these countries, many barriers come in the way of female equality and the need for education is necessary to prepare them to have the same stance as men. Girls in Nepal and India are still facing discrimination based on their caste, gender, socio-religious traditions, and general stereotypes. These aspects that are common in cultures within these nations, no matter how ancient the views, still play a role in how much a girl can shape her true identity. It is necessary to reevaluate these barriers to make sure societies and nations are on the right track to develop and progress along with others. When these barriers are pushed aside and opportunities are given for girls to succeed, there are countless possibilities for beneficial impacts and much can happen for their own lives and for the betterment of their society.
This essay will focus on cultural traditions of child marriage, gender stereotypes, and the prolonged tradition of caste that are barriers in many cultures and communities within the two countries by asking to what extent do the cultural barriers in India and Nepal impact girls identity and education? This will be examined through analysis of surveys conducted and researched and will bring in psychological perspective and will evaluate sources through the lens of historiography.
Child marriage is still a common issue in many regions of the world, particularly in the Indian subcontinent. The Cross-Sectional Analysis between Education and Girl Child Marriage from 1991 to 2011 by Anita Raj states that laws have been placed against girl child marriage starting from around 1929, but South Asian countries have not taken them seriously as needed (Raj 2). Nepal and India along with other countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan have established marriage age around 18 years old (Raj 2). The reason this is not widely forced is that in these regions marriages are seen highly as a family matter.
Raj’s study between girl child marriage and education was based on surveys conducted in four countries, two of them being India and Nepal and examined girls in primary and secondary school education. They looked at data sources from Demographics and Health Surveys (DHS), reviewed by “nation-specific ethical review boards” and examined the connection between the number of years of education completed, the level of education received, and availability of education (Raj 4). These household surveys are from low and middle-income family and are represented nationally. “Survey response rates for DHS included in the current study were 94-99%” (Raj 2).
The study concludes that “girl child marriage remains socially entrenched in places where social and gender development lag” (Raj 2). It is found that families place more importance on the sons of the household because of long-term economic help from them rather than from daughters. This is supported by the article on Education Stratification which found “the balance of household decision making is further tipped in favor of educating sons because of considerations surrounding marriage” (Stash 356). This leads to families arranging early marriage for girls so they can invest more in the son, thus limiting girls’ chance at education as they are forced to take on the burdens of being a wife. “Most recent data across the nations of focus indicate that 50–77% of this ever married sample was married prior to age 18 years” (Raj 3). There is no consideration of laws because the importance is on what is best for the family financially. Most see a benefit in giving away the girl to decrease a burden and favor sons who they see having more capability to help the family.
Raj looked at surveys which helped to examine girls around primary and secondary education level. This is valuable because it is those younger ages that play a crucial role in what one becomes. Depending on what young girls are doing and receiving around these ages determines how their future will be shaped. If girls are given opportunities to study and continue with it until adulthood, they have a higher chance of understanding the rights and wrongs of the social barriers they are enclosed in and discriminated against. They are not given the chance to come to their own understanding of what is happening in their life and are often told what to do. Raj’s study found that primary and secondary education were protective of girls from early marriage (Raj 356). Once girls are given a platform to showcase and further their talent and increase their knowledge of the environment around them, education becomes a backbone on which they can always lean on for support when battling unfairness. Girls need the chance to figure out what they are capable of and jump past the hurdles that belittles and gives no worth to their identity. The impact of child marriage is that it limits their chance at creating a worthy identity and taking on opportunities to create a future for themselves. Access to education will help girls find their passion and increase chance of becoming economically stable, which can possibly help change the way families see them. Since families tend to seek economic help from sons rather than daughters, the access to education gives opportunities for girls to be on the same platform as them through their own capability and knowledge. Being dependent on sons is an age old view and in order to change that idea, girls must be able to take steps forward, and education can be that first step.
A key thing to consider is that the data in this study was from mostly middle to lower class families. This becomes a limitation of the study as it leaves out higher members of society and lacks the holistic view to the issue. The issue of child marriage and limitations on girls are more likely to occur in lower class because of low incomes, but without looking at what is happening to girls in the upper class, we cannot be sure if the discriminatory factors are solely in the bottom regions of society. If it is, then we need to look at how we can use possible help from top to trickle down a positive effect to the bottom. We cannot disregard that money and authority has power to create change, good and bad. In order to tackle an issue in a community, no matter how big or small, it is important to look at it from all sides to come to an effective solution. The occurrence of child marriage is high when parents feel overwhelmed at being able to provide for their children, and it becomes a necessity to give away the one child they feel won’t help much. Families that do not have much are sometimes bound to turn to marriage of their daughters to decrease their burden and focus on sons to help them. When girls are limited from getting education, they will obviously have no route to go in order to help support their family with a well based income. Through education, there is a chance to decrease the number of families that are in financial hardships because girls can also be contributing factors to their families’ income. Although parents strive for the betterment of their children, they do not seem to see the negativity. This impacts girls’ identity as they fail to see as well because they are given no choice to understand their circumstances nor do they have the knowledge to understand right over wrong. The lack of knowledge only pushes girls back and puts them in situations that can truly be avoided.
Further Look Into Marriage
Arranged marriages are common traditional customs in many South Asian cultures. It’s based on parents’ perception of compatibility between two individuals in culture, religion, social class, family background, appearance, and personal character (Madathil 224). The issue here is not marriage itself, but the process at which it is taken. Madathil talks about how parents use their own criteria to identify a perfect partner for their children, and the children have little to no say or contact prior to the marriage (Madathil 224). This teaches them to trust and depend on their parents, thus pushing their desires aside. When it comes to child marriage, a child will not have enough knowledge about the change occurring in her life. Decisions are made for her without her having any say, and this has the danger of continuing into her future where she will find herself dependent on her husband. The impact is that her identity does not belong to herself, it is in the hands of others who guide her everyday life because she has been trained from the beginning to depend on others.
The problem here is not arranged marriages, it’s not having the ability to decide for oneself. One can definitely agree to parents’ choice if it also matches their personal wishes, but when none of your inputs are taken into consideration or even asked about it has the danger of making girls feel worthless. That doesn’t make arranged child marriages okay if the child agrees because they have not developed mentally to fully understand what is happening and are likely to trust parents’ decisions without much thought. Relying on others can later develop the habit of learned helplessness. “Learn helplessness is apparent in the self-defeating behavior of the women” (Pant 288). This comes from losing control in situations that greatly impact one’s life, such as marriage. “Exposure to situations where one does not have control produces emotional, cognitive, and motivational disturbances” (Pant 288). This is learned from the beginning where their behaviors are controlled by family members to fit their gender appropriate roles. This takes away the chance for girls to make choices for themselves which decreases their motivation to seek anything better and hurts their psychological well-being. The psychological well-being of children are in the hands of parents first, but there must be a good transition into their own hands as they grow up. Education can be that step needed for one to strengthen their mental process of judging what is right and how to keep oneself fit emotionally to make correct decisions for themselves.
The article Education Stratification by Gender, Caste, and Ethnicity looks into Nepal and examines the issues of gender and educational gap. By evaluating nationally represented data from the 1991 Nepal Fertility, Family Planning and Health Survey, it was found that rather than individual life skills, domestic activities are given more importance for a girl in order to prepare her for adult marital role (Stash 356). This links to Raj’s claim about how marriage is seen as the last destination for a girl. Furthermore, in most South Asian countries, girls are expected to leave their households through marriage by their mid-twenties. Examining the connection between gender and marriage, it degrades a girl’s identity and takes away from the freedom to decide what is best for herself. With marriage comes big responsibilities, especially in cultures where living in joint families is the norm. This further pushes away their desire to pursue higher level education for their own future. Stash and Hannum examined progress of several children through primary and secondary school years and found that household decision on education began to tip more towards the sons (Stash 356). Girls are pushed aside when it comes to education because it is seen that a girl’s ultimate goal should be to prepare herself for her marital life. This idea puts girls behind boys when it comes to education and freedom to seek what they want because the first thing that seems easy is to get rid of a girl. It belittles who they are, and they are likely to go along with it because of lack of support and knowledge. The origin of this study was from 1991 and progress has been made about how we see gender roles from then to now and it’s likely there are less girls now finding themselves restricted; however, that doesn’t mean the issue is completely gone or is even near its end. It is still relevant today, and possibly even more than before as advancing technology has made it easier to spread issues from various parts of the world quicker and easier.
Daya Pant’s study of socialization practices show that “children are encouraged to learn gender-role appropriate behaviors…closely monitored in their environment and subjected to control by others” (Pant 286). This can be put into perspective of social psychology where one’s action, attitude, and behavior are guided based on other people’s opinion and where they belong. Looking at Psychology Women Quarterly, Walstead puts it “women have structured their entire lives around pleasing and serving men because this was the predominant mode they learned as they were growing up” (Walstead 166). Gender seems to be a strong factor in school participation. These views have blocked girls from receiving more through education. They could be given the chance to go to school, but as they grow older, these rules overtake the importance of receiving education and creating an identity for themselves. They end up trying to please and be dependent on others and are not given the freedom to choose for themselves.
The benefit of Pant and Walstead’s study is by looking at girls who are taught to base their daily lives around pleasing others, we can easily see that it has a possibility of increasing their fear of being unloved; therefore, they stick to doing what they are told which are mainly domestic things. When loved it encourages the dependency on others and influences how women perceive themselves amongst others, especially men. They base their identity by looking at what they can do for others. While helping and appreciating others is a beautiful human characteristic, it can be harmful to us when we fail to help ourselves first. These girls are put in a situation with no room for growth and are guided by others, thus if they do anything wrong regarding their given roles, they bring the threat of potential humiliation to themselves and their family. This has the chance of increasing anxiety as they fear they are not good enough or are doing something wrong. They will be in constant stress and it will impact how they think and feel. The stress can push them to do more and more for others thinking they are doing the right thing.
When girls are not given the endless opportunities available out there, they get stuck in the same arena with no knowledge of how to get out. They are pushed to settle for less and the lack of importance given to girls hurts their identity and chance to amount to something great. While boys have the freedom to pursue higher education, girls are placed below them because of stereotypical roles. It can be seen as too much work to get them out of their domestic circle, something taught from a young age. It seems that they cannot achieve or balance both, and the domestic is always placed on girls whereas education on boys. The unfairness faced by girls are often overshadowed by the importance given to boys.
The caste system can be traced back hundreds and thousands of years. This system of social structure and status can either be an advantage or disadvantage depending on one’s rank. The Caste System in India explains the caste system as a hierarchy of endogamous groups that individuals enter only by birth (Olcott 648). For those that are born into the higher caste is a gift, for the lower ones it can be a curse.
In the International Journal of Educational Development, a qualitative study was done to explore the barriers faced by scheduled caste adolescent girls when it came to their participation in school. Interviews with 22 girls were done along with parents in two district in Karnataka, India. It was found that girls in Bijapur and Bagalkot were and are more likely to be denied education because of their gender, but also because of the disadvantaged caste they belonged to (Bhagavatheeswaran 264). Parents also said they are not supporting their girls because of societal views on their caste and unchangeable status brought upon them by birth plus their child’s gender (Bhagavatheeswaran 266).
Olcott comes from an economic approach as he talks about the “fixed economic and social status established by birth in a given caste (Olcott 649).” He goes on to give an example of a carpenter, born into a carpenter family to which he finds himself related by blood to carpenters exclusively (Olcott 649). Once you are born into a certain caste, you find yourself relating to things which belong specifically to that caste. Therefore, lower caste are likely to find themselves in low paying jobs that add financial burden to a family which then results in lack of support for children, particularly girls.
For girls wanting to attend school, it can be an automatic no with zero support if they belong to lower castes. Along with the caste, factors like financial status must also be taken into account when determining the barriers for girls and the impact on their education and future. Low financial status, which is common in lower caste family, can result in less support from the family for the girl. Looking back at gender, boys are likely to be given more support even if financial issues are hard because of the popular belief that there are likely to be more of a financial help later on, another finding confirmed in the qualitative study.
The caste system did not originate at one particular time, rather many factors fall into its origin. From food and occupational taboos to racial purity, caste came in connection with Hinduism over time (Olcott 650). Thus, the disadvantages of caste on girls can be taken into account mostly for Hindu girls. While Olcott touches on religion, he fails to point out that India does not have an established religion, and there are girls who belong to other religions where barriers like marriage, gender, and financial status impact them. Olcott’s content over financial issue with caste can be placed on girls who are not part of the system which is popular within Hindu communities. In Nepal, Hinduism became the official state religion in 2006, and the caste system is a defining characteristic of the religion (Posner 285). Caste ranks individual status and purity, and if one’s status in not high, it can limit access to many things such as education.
If a study was done on non-Hindu girls and the barriers they face, it is likely the result would be similar to those of disadvantaged castes. It can be seen that one’s caste and financial status go hand-in-hand. If a study on several Muslim girls of low-income family were done, they would find themselves in similar position as the adolescent Hindu girls, only without the added barrier of caste. The girls of lower, disadvantaged caste have an added burden on top of gender stereotypes, societal and cultural traditions, and economic status. That doesn’t mean the Muslim girls issue with discrimination and unfairness would be any less of an issue. A girl does not have to be Hindu in order to receive discrimination. Non-hindu ethnic groups are degraded in Hindu populated states like Nepal and India. Those ethnic groups are treated alike of those of the lowest caste. If you do not belong to that group, you will likely face discrimination of some sort. For girls gender is added with the discrimination. On top of gender bias from society and certain traditions to follow, caste becomes another hurdle for girls as it ends up tying them to something they want to but cannot get away from.
If the caste system was reevaluated, there could be a chance for people to break free from certain things holding them back. For example, people might get the strength to change their careers from carpentry to something bigger. It needs to be reevaluated so that people stop looking so much into one’s caste to determine their identity. This has become an extra burden for girls that can be easily taken off. Saying that, it is not easy to change years old way of life, but small changes within is possible. To determine if one is capable of something, their caste should not be a determining factor. People are capable of much more than they present or are given.
Factors such as marriage, caste, and stereotypes should not be overlooked when examining the limitations faced by girls. It can be mentally degrading when it does nothing but hurt one’s identity and become barriers to achieving more in life. It is important to take a well-rounded look at each aspects that pertain to girls in the Indian-subcontinent, regardless of where they are. Nepal and India especially have greater issues visible on the surface about various aspects of culture being a negative determinant of a girl’s life. Although these barriers might have less impact then they used to, there are still many elements within each one that need to be addressed such as decision making with marriage, placing a specific role on who we are, and how to place age old tradition in perspective with the modern changing world. It is important to reevaluate the role they play on all girls belonging to various communities and make sure there are beneficial impacts. So far there are not many benefits and girls are only being pushed further behind boys.