Greater access to quality tertiary education helps create greater and more decent job opportunities for young men and women in developing countries.
However, in spite of rising education and rising aspirations, labour markets and social norms constrain women, almost as if they are all dressed up for a party with nowhere to go.
Relevance of education in employment
- Almost all girls go to primary school and, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) of 2011-12, 70% of girls aged 15 to 18 are still studying, only five percentage points less than boys. They frequently outperform boys. In 2018, in the Class XII CBSE examination, 88.31% girls passed, compared to 78.99% boys.
- Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and the IHDS show that education and employment have a U-shaped relationship. Illiterate women are most likely to participate in the workforce.
- Work participation drops sharply for women with primary and secondary education and rises only with college education. This relationship holds even after we take into account income of other members of the household, social background and place of residence.
- NSSO data for 25- to 59-year-old workers in 2011-12 show that among farmers, farm labourers and service workers, nearly one-third are women, while the proportion of women among professionals, managers and clerical workers is only about 15%.
- Young men with Class 10 or 12 education find jobs as mechanics, drivers, sales representatives, postmen and appliance repairmen. Few of these opportunities are available to women.
- Whether employers choose not to hire women in these positions or working conditions make for an inhospitable environment for young women is not clear. Educated women’s main employment options lie in qualifying as a nurse or a teacher or looking for office jobs.
Significance of education in Marriage
- Marriage remains the only acceptable fate for young women in India. A third of Japanese women and 11% of Sri Lankan women aged 30-34 are single, less than 3% of Indian women are single at that age.
- Moreover, women’s education does not seem to carry the same value in the ‘marriage market’ as caste, the family’s economic status and horoscope.
- University of Maryland researchers find that whereas less than 5% women married men whose education was lower than themselves in the 1970s, the proportion has grown to nearly 20% recently.
Education’s role in Women’s autonomy
- Based on recent National Family Health Survey data, there seems to be little evidence that a moderate level of education offers women a greater say in household decisions or freedom of movement outside the home. College graduates fare slightly better, but even for them, the difference is relatively small.
- 48% of women with no schooling do not go to a health centre alone; the proportion for college graduates is only slightly lower at 45%.
- As expected the education has not been able to create adequate autonomy and sufficient courage in women to seek their autonomy in and outside their houses.
Women as a vote bank
- Is it surprising that periodically their frustration takes the shape of a social movement? What is surprising is that their demands are not more strident, and that no political party has chosen to espouse their cause.
- If women were a caste, their cause would be championed by political parties now trying to mobilise caste-based vote banks. We would see proposals for women’s quota in government jobs and higher education.
- If women were an economic class, we would see subsidies and a variety of other economic incentives showered on them.
- However, our political process sees women as an extension of the men in their households and assumes that no special effort is needed to win their hearts and minds.
- The 2018 House of Representatives elections in the U.S. that brought victory to the Democrats were shaped by the Democrats winning women’s votes by an overwhelming margin. According to the PEW Research Centre, Democrats won 59% of women’s vote as opposed to 40% for Republicans; among men, they won 51% versus the 47% won by Republicans.
“Yatra naryastu poojyante, Bhramante tatra devatah”: Gods dwell where women are respected. The role of education should be to empower women and do justice to their dignified dwelling. Education should lead to women led development rather than just women development.