Understanding South Asia Gender Inequality in School
In 2007, a female MIT economist went to a country in South Asia, to see what aspirations parents and girls had for their education. Of the 495 villages she and her colleagues visited, they reported that “parents were 45 percent less likely to state that they wanted their girls to graduate from school or study beyond the secondary-school level, in comparison to the parents’ aspirations for boys.”1 The study highlighted one of the many issues that gives rise to gender inequality in school for girls in South Asia.
A centuries-old mindset that boys are preferred to girls still pervades many countries in the world, even those that have seen large economic growth and expansion.2 With this increased economic opportunity, why is gender inequality a problem in South Asia? At the root of this prejudice is the idea that boys will become men who can work, fight or farm. The expectation for girls is that they will learn and do domestic chores like cooking, cleaning and raising children, which means they will not be a source of income. In addition, the sons are the ones expected to take care of the parents in old age. Without a son, they cannot expect this.3
Another long-held and practiced belief in some countries is that of providing dowries, where a bride’s family gives cash or in-kind payment to the groom’s family when the couple marry. All of these factors create an environment for girls and women that devalues them as contributors to society and holds them as unworthy as far as investing in their education and their future. Society as a whole sees no reason to make sure that a girl is educated and has options available beyond secondary education should she want it.
In a culture already partial to boys, girls find themselves at every disadvantage in school for investment and resources. Girls will be the first ones pulled from school to care for younger siblings or work in factories. And the cycle for women in poverty begins all over again. This highlights reasons why girl education is important.
Rella was one such girl. She grew up with her parents and siblings struggling to simply provide the most basic of necessities. Rella could not go to school because she was expected to care for her siblings. She was completely illiterate when she married Rahm and had children of her own. Rahm was also illiterate. They lived in the slums in a home made of mud and plastic, all they could afford. Neither of them could read legal documents, street signs or labels. And without math skills, they didn’t know if they were being treated fairly at the market.4
Then Rella met the Sisters of Compassion,5 a GFA team who were ministering to peole in slums. The sisters began free literacy classes for women. Rella and the other women were given a literacy book and classes, plus the sisters’ loving care as believers in Jesus Christ. Rella not only soaked it up, she excelled. In the evenings, she would read to Rahm and started to teach him how to read, too. Their children were able to go to school, and Rella was able to help them with their studies. Because of this, their children have hope to break free from the cycle of poverty from which their parents came.
Supporting both literacy programs and women missionaries like the Sisters of Compassion are two impactful ways to lovingly lift someone out of poverty. Women like Rella need both the skills and the care of the missionaries in order to truly thrive, as well as to combat gender inequality in school. These women missionaries, in particular, are specifically trained to minister to women in some of the poorest environments in the world.
Just $30 a month helps support a woman missionary through GFA. GFA missionaries have a deep burden for showing Christ’s love by physically serving the needy, underprivileged and poor.
You can support a woman missionary with a monthly gift that multiplies their ability to bring literacy, hope and the love of Jesus Christ to wives and mothers like Rella and their families. They can uniquely disrupt patterns of poverty in practical ways, while also ministering to the hearts of women who may never have learned to dream or hope.
Their humility, care and love are shining examples of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in places where the darkness of poverty and hopelessness often overshadows entire generations. Your gift is a light that the sisters can carry into the shadows of societies where women often live and one that can help stop gender inequality in school.
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1 Dizikes, Peter. “Leading by example.” MIT News. January 13, 2012. https://news.mit.edu/2012/female-politicians-0113.
2 “Gender Development Index.“ United Nations Development Programme. December 15, 2020, http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/gender-development-index-gdi.
3 Sharma, Smriti. “Achieving gender equality in India: What works, and what doesn’t.” United Nations University. December 1, 2016. https://unu.edu/publications/articles/achieving-gender-equality-in-india-what-works-and-what-doesnt.html.
4 “Once-Illiterate Woman Teaches Husband to Read.” GFA World. November 22, 2021. https://gospelforasia-reports.org/2021/11/once-illiterate-woman-teaches-husband-to-read/.
5 “Sisters of Compassion.” GFA World. Accessed January 20, 2022. https://www.gfa.org/women/sisters-of-compassion/.