Nilesh KunwarNothing captures importance of educating women better than the old African proverb – ‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ Unfortunately, even though there’s general consensus on the immense benefits of educating and empowering women, implementing women education and empowerment projects are often stymied by antiquated social customs and the medieval belief that a woman’s role is restricted to housekeeping, bearing children and bringing them up. To make matters worse, emancipation of women through education and skill development is perceived as a threat in many male dominated societies and hence discouraged.The condition of women education in J&K isn’t very promising. As per last census held in 2011, while the literacy rate in Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh was 68.74 per cent, literacy amongst women was just 58.01 with the high school dropout rate of women being much higher than their male counterparts. What is most disquieting is that on converting these percentages into figures, it emerges that one out of three women in this region can’t read or write, which by any standards is unacceptable in the twenty first century. As such, this issue merits greater deliberation.Even though, a National Sample Survey on education held in erstwhile J&K from July 2017 to June 2018 indicates a definite improvement in the overall literacy rate, which stands at 77.3 percent, the female literacy is only 68 percent. Considering the fact that National Sample Survey deems anyone of the age of seven and above who can read and write a simple message in any language with understanding as being literate and percentage of such persons as literacy rate, the data on female literacy in J&K as well as Ladakh reveals a serious deficiency. This sorry state of affairs warrants institutional intervention.As such, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s recent announcement of a scholarship scheme to finance education of meritorious girls from poor families in professional disciplines like medicine, engineering, skill acquisition in Industrial Training Institutes [ITI] and humanities that would contribute to nation-building is indeed a welcome step in empowering the womenfolk of J&K. Launched on International Women’s Day, this initiative has been named Super-75 scholarship scheme to mark ‘Azaadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav- India @ 75’ and has many positives. Firstly, this scholarship isn’t a largesse being doled out on personal whims and fancies; it’s based purely on individual merit and as such will serve as an incentive for deserving, which doesn’t have the financial means to achieve their professional ambitions.However, Super-75 Scholarship isn’t the only scheme to bolster women empowerment in J&K. Lt Governor Sinha also announced launch of ‘Tejaswini’- a scheme under the ‘Mission Youth’ programme, which will provide financial assistance of upto 5 lakhs to girls between in age group of 18 to 35 years to start their own business. Mission Youth will not only provide 10 per cent of the project cost but will also pay the annual interest of the loan as well as facilitate access of women entrepreneurs to the global market and provide them details about innovative products. In order to enhance the literacy rate in J&K, the Lt Governor also announced exemption of tuition fees from girl students upto 12th standard studying in government schools and a total of 5,89,000 girls would benefit from this free education scheme.To help girl students residing in remote areas, the establishment has operationalised made 88 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and an equal number of girls hostels operational. A total of 13 scholarship schemes to support higher education of meritorious girls belonging to financially weak sections of society have also been announced. The government is playing its part to improve literacy rate amongst women in J&K as well as empower them and give wings to their dreams. Now it’s the turn of parents and girls [both students and entrepreneurs] to ensure that they derive maximum benefit from these schemes. Everyone knows that when it comes to excelling in any sphere of activity, Kashmiri girls are second to none, and many who have brought laurels for both the community and country.Take example of Sabbah Haji, who has started Haji Public School in a remote village of J&K in order to provide quality education to children, or Nadiya Nighat who stormed into predominantly male football bastion by becoming Kashmir’s first female football coach. Then, we have Tajamul Aslam who represented India in the ‘Under 8’ World Kickboxing Championship and did the country proud by winning a gold medal! Pursuing her dream, law graduate Mehvish Zarger co-founded the ‘Me ‘n’ U Café in Srinagar and became the first woman entrepreneur in the eatery business in Kashmir. Roohi Nazki is another entrepreneur who founded ‘Chai Jaai’- a popular tea room in Srinagar. The list goes on.The crying need of the hour is to ensure that unscrupulous elements don’t sabotage government initiatives concerning education and empowerment of women by making it an arena of conflict just to derive petty political gains or further separatist agenda. It needs to be understood that if this happens, then no one but the local girls of J&K would be the ultimate losers.
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