The Bond that is Educating Girls Across India

Schoolgirls in rural Bihar, India. In Indian villages one in 10 girls aged 10 to 14 are kept out of school to help contribute to the family income or care for siblings. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 1 2018 (IPS)

Barely five months into the start of Sneha’s year at a government school in Bhilwara, a town in India’s desert state of Rajasthan, the bubbly 15-year-old was pulled out by her parents. They wanted her to stay at home instead, to look after her four younger siblings and to cook and clean for the family as her parents worked on their farm.

Sneha’s  parents, however, are no different from thousands of others in rural Rajasthan who believe it is pointless to educate daughters as they ultimately get married and leave their parents’ homes to manage their own households and raise kids.

Many opt to train their daughters in housekeeping and child rearing from a young age, using their skills to provide free care and services to their families instead.

Sneha’s story, however, had a different ending. Her school principal and Educate Girls (EG), a non-profit that empowers communities to facilitate girls’ education in rural India, intervened. They spoke to Sneha’s parents about the importance of education and how receiving an education could become life-changing for the young girl and her family.

“After we were counselled, we realised that we had erred in depriving our daughter of an education,” Kishan Ram, 48, Sneha’s father, told IPS. “And that if  we educate her, she will be able to make informed life choices that will not only help her earn a livelihood but also improve the future of an entire generation.”

Sneha’ is not the only young girl in India who was able to return to school thanks to intervention from EG.

Since 2007, the multiple award-winning organisation has been working to empower and educate underprivileged communities to make young girls employable, join the country’s formal workforce and lift their families out of poverty.

EG has grown from a 500-school pilot project, to serve a network of over 25,000 schools across 16 districts in Rajasthan as well as the central India state of Madhya Pradesh. It aims to leverage existing community and government resources to augment access and quality of education for around 2.5 million children across 27,500 schools by the end of 2018.

In 2015 EG became part of a unique experiment. It implemented the Development Impact Bond (DIB), a mechanism which capitalises on private risk capital so that a third party, such as a donor agency or foundation, can finance the achievement of agreed-upon outcomes.

“This type of outcome-based funding can be a great catalyst for driving quality and improving learning outcomes in the education sector,” Dr. Suresh Pant, an educationist and former associate Professor from the Delhi University, told IPS.

According to one of the stakeholders in the project, UBS Optimus Foundation, DIBs are more result-oriented compared to traditional funding as they transfer the risk to investors who put in the working capital for the implementing organisations on the ground. Predefined targets are regularly measured and this enables the implementing organisation to adapt quickly for any course correction where necessary. The implementing organisation has an increased motivation to deliver results.

“Patriarchy and gender-based discrimination systematically exclude girls from school thus denying them the advantages of autonomy, mobility and economic independence that boys enjoy,” EG’s Founder and London School of Economics alumnus, Safeena Husain, told IPS. “Education opens doors for girls giving them the potential for equal opportunity. Our organisation alleviates these girls’ life and future by bringing them into a formal education system.”

Children in the rural town of Harohalli Taluq, 60 kilometres south of Bangalore, India. Though India has achieved a 99 percent enrolment rate of school children at primary level, the quality of learning has remained abysmal. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Though India has achieved a 99 percent enrolment rate of school children at primary level, the quality of learning has remained abysmal. An Indian student, say surveys, lags at least two grades behind the level that is expected for their age. Rajasthan reports some of the worst education indicators in the country.

Working in synergy with the government, EG taps into a network of 12,000 community volunteers, called Team Balika, to ensure higher enrolment and attendance for girls as well as improved learning outcomes for all children.

Experts say this approach to education is a huge boon for Indian villages where one in 10 girls aged 10 to 14 are kept out of school to help contribute to the family income or care for siblings.

Dr. Shamika Ravi, Research Director at Brookings India, opines that the DIB model has immense implications for education policy and innovative financing instruments.

“Impact Bonds are a new, complementary source of funding developmental interventions. Private sector firms undertake the initial investment by providing the upfront working capital to service providers to deliver programmes on the ground. Outcome payers — governments or development agencies — are obligated to repay the private firms’ investment alongside a fixed return if, and only if, pre-determined performance indicators are met. The bonds’ stakeholders can collectively impact the delivery of social services, and how small-scale interventions can create benchmarks and common frameworks for scale and sector-wide impact,” he writes in his column in The Hindu newspaper.

EG students’ learning is measured using the Annual Status of  Education Report, an annual survey that provides reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India. The test measures three proficiencies: Hindi, English and Mathematics. Student enrolment is defined by the percentage of out-of-school girls (between the ages of seven and 14) enrolled in school by the end of the third year.

According to EG’s annual report released this August, in it’s third year the DIB surpassed both its target outcomes by achieving 160 percent of its learning target and 116 percent of its enrolment target.

“Progress was measured against agreed targets for the number of out-of-school girls enrolled into primary and upper primary schools as well as the progress of girls and boys in English, Hindi and Math. The outcome-based funding model, with its constant feedback and analysis of data from the field teams, has allowed the organisation to identify challenges and craft customised  solutions,” says the report.

The organisation’s biggest success was enrolment—which reached 92 percent—and accounted for 20 percent of the outcome payment. The programme had also surpassed the target, enrolling 768 girls, accounting for a 116 percent increase. Learning outcomes, which made up 80 percent of the outcome payment, saw an upward spiral of 8,940 more learning levels than the comparison group against a targeted predefined metric of 5,592, equivalent to a 160 percent achievement against target, says the report.

Participation in the DIB, explains Husain has led to EG becoming more target-driven and develop precise frameworks, processes and capabilities to measure and monitor the outcomes achieved. “The success of the DIB model has proven we’re on the right path,” she concludes.

Legal Weapons Have Failed to Curb Femicides in Latin America

Susana Gómez, who was left blind by a beating from her then husband, says in a park in the city of La Plata, Argentina that she did not find support from the authorities to free herself from domestic violence, but a social organisation saved her from joining the list of femicides in Latin America - gender-based murders of women, which numbered 2,795 in 2017 in the region. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Susana Gómez, who was left blind by a beating from her then husband, says in a park in the city of La Plata, Argentina that she did not find support from the authorities to free herself from domestic violence, but a social organisation saved her from joining the list of femicides in Latin America – gender-based murders of women, which numbered 2,795 in 2017 in the region. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Dec 1 2018 (IPS)

Left blind by a beating from her ex-husband, Susana Gómez barely managed to avoid joining the list of nearly 2,800 femicides committed annually in Latin America, but her case shows why public policies and laws are far from curtailing gender-based violence in the region.

“I filed many legal complaints (13 in criminal courts and five in civil courts) and the justice system never paid any attention to me,” Gómez told IPS in an interview in a square in her neighborhood in Lisandro Olmos, a suburb of La Plata, capital of the province of Buenos Aires.

Although they already existed in Argentina in 2011, when the brutal attack against her took place, the specialised women’s police stations were not enough to protect her from her attacker.

Her life was saved by La Casa María Pueblo, a non-governmental organisation that, like others in Latin America, uses its own resources to make up for the shortcomings of the state in order to protect and provide legal advice to the victims of domestic violence.

Gómez, her four children and her mother, who were also threatened by her ex-husband, were given shelter by the NGO.

“We had nothing. We went there with the clothes on our back and our identity documents and nothing else because we were going here and there and everyone closed the door on us: The police didn’t do anything, nor did the prosecutor’s office,” said Gómez, who is now 34 years old.

“Without organisations like this one I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale, the case wouldn’t have made it to trial. Without legal backing, a shelter where you can hide, psychological treatment, I couldn’t have faced this, because it’s not easy,” she said.

In April 2014, a court in La Plata sentenced her ex-husband, Carlos Goncharuk, to eight years in prison. Gómez is now suing the government of the province of Buenos Aires for reparations.

“No one is going to give me my eyesight back, but I want the justice system, the State to be more aware, to prevent a before and an after,” said Gómez, who once again is worried because her ex will be released next year.

Lawyer Darío Witt, the founder of the NGO, said Gómez was not left blind by an accident or illness but by the repeated beatings at the hands of her then-husband. The last time, he banged her head against the kitchen wall.

“The aim of the reparations is not simply economic. What we want to try to show in the case of Susana and other victims is that the State, that the authorities in general, whether provincial, municipal or national and in different countries, have a high level of responsibility in this. The state is not innocent in these questions,” Witt told IPS.

“When I went blind and realised that I would no longer see my children, I said ‘enough’,” Gómez said.

Alarming statistics

According to the Gender Equality Observatory (OIG) of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), at least 2,795 women were murdered in 2017 for gender-based reasons in 23 countries in the region, crimes classified in several countries as femicides.

The list of femicides released this month by OIG is led by Brazil (1,133 victims registered in 2017), in absolute figures, but in relative terms, the rate of gender crimes per 100,000 women, El Salvador reaches a level unparalleled in the region, with 10.2 femicides per 100,000 women.

Charts showing absolute numbers of femicides by country in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the rate of gender-based murders per 100,000 women. Credit: ECLAC Gender Equality Observatory

Charts showing absolute numbers of femicides by country in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the rate of gender-based murders per 100,000 women. Credit: ECLAC Gender Equality Observatory

Honduras (in 2016) recorded 5.8 femicides per 100,000 women, and Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia also recorded high rates in 2017, equal to or greater than two cases per 100,000 women.

The OIG details that gender-based killings account for the majority of murders of women in the region, where femicides are mainly committed by partners or ex-partners of the victim, with the exception of El Salvador and Honduras.

“Femicides are the most extreme expression of violence against women. Neither the classification of the crime nor its statistical visibility have been sufficient to eradicate this scourge that alarms and horrifies us every day,” said ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena as she released the new OIG figures.

Ana Silvia Monzón, a Guatemalan sociologist with the Gender and Feminism Studies Programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso), pointed out that her country has had a Law against Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women since 2008 and a year later a Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons.

“Both are important instruments because they help make visible a serious problem in Guatemala, and they are a tool for victims to begin the path to justice,” she told IPS from Guatemala City.

However, despite these laws that provided for the creation of a model of comprehensive care for victims and specialised courts, “the necessary resources are not allocated to institutions, agencies and programmes that should promote such prevention, much less specialised care for victims who report the violence,” she said.

In addition, “prejudices and biased gender practices persist among those who enforce the law” and “little has been done to introduce educational content or programmes that contribute to changing the social imaginary that assumes violence against women as normal,” and especially against indigenous women, she said.

#NiUnaMenos, #NiUnaMás

In the region, “significant progress has been made, which is the expression of a women’s movement that has managed to draw attention to gender-based violence as a social problem, but not enough progress has been made,” Monzón said.

Five-year-old Olivia holds up a sign with the slogan against femicide, #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less), which has spread throughout Latin America in mass mobilisations against gender violence. Olivia participated in a neighborhood activity in the Argentine city of La Plata on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, celebrated Nov. 25. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Five-year-old Olivia holds up a sign with the slogan against femicide, #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less), which has spread throughout Latin America in mass mobilisations against gender violence. Olivia participated in a neighborhood activity in the Argentine city of La Plata on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, celebrated Nov. 25. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to U.N. Women, a total of 18 Latin American and Caribbean nations have modified their laws to punish sexist crimes against women such as femicide or gender-based aggravated homicide.

But as Gómez and other social activists in her neighborhood conclude, much more must be done.

The meeting with the victim took place on Nov. 25, during an informal social gathering in the Juan Manuel de Rosas square, organized by the group Nuevo Encuentro.

The activity was held on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which launched the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. This year’s slogan is #HearMeToo, which calls for victims to be heard as part of the solution to what experts call a “silent genocide.”

María Eugenia Cruz, a neighborhood organiser for Nuevo Encuentro, said that despite the new legal frameworks and mass demonstrations and mobilisations such as #NiUnaMenos against machista violence and feminicide, which have spread throughout Argentina and other countries in the region, “there is still a need to talk about what is happening to women.”

“In more narrow-minded places like this neighbourhood, it seems like gender violence is something people are ashamed of talking about, the women feel guilty. Making the problem visible is part of thinking about what tools the State can provide,” she told IPS.

“Or to see what those tools are,” said Olivia, her five-year-old daughter who was playing nearby, and who proudly held a sign that read: “Ni Una Menos,” (Not One Woman Less) the slogan that has brought Latin American women together, as well as #NiUnaMás (Not One More Woman).

She exemplifies a new generation of Latin American girls who, thanks to massive mobilisations and growing social awareness, are beginning to speak out early and promote cultural change.

“Today women are becoming aware, starting during the dating stage, of the signs of a violent man. He doesn’t like your friends, he doesn’t like the way you dress. Now there’s more information available, and that’s important,” said Gómez, who is a volunteer on a hot-line for victims of violence.

“Now they call you, they ask you for advice, and that’s good. In the past, who could you call? Besides the fear, if they promise to conceal your identity, that prompts you to say: I’m going to file a complaint and I have a group of people who are going to help me,” said the survivor of domestic abuse.