Antidote for Patriarchy: Empowering Girls Through Education

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Growing up in India as a girl is not easy, as per the gender inequality index 2021 we rank 140th out of 156 nations. The gender gap in India has widened to 62.5% majorly due to inadequate representation of women in labour force participation, income inequality, and most importantly female to male literacy ratio.  ‘’India’s daughters are unwanted, unsafe, and unfree’’ states Dr Sahni. 1/3 of the world’s child brides are in India, almost one million girls are killed each year in the womb and 50% of Indian married women are beaten.

Millions of girls in India lead unequal lives. Is there a way women’s empowerment can be done in India? Is it possible? Dr Urvashi tells us what she did and how you can do it. Recalling her personal experiences she was married at the age of 17, when her brothers went on pursuing higher education, after her continuous asking as to why? She concluded that the issue was structural social norms which she needed to get rid of to ensure thinking of an equal person. From her own experience, she learned that education was essential but it wasn’t done right, it didn’t teach her who she was or how to use the skills learned in theory. People always thought pain caused by girls and minorities isn’t something they could solve but Dr Sahni from her educational background in philosophy made a curriculum asking questions about values, freedom, corruption, and other essential women rights.

The Brain Child; Study Hall Education Foundation

Study Hall Education Foundation began in 1986 with the goal of defining education and providing a model of how a child can be educated to be a responsible citizen based on social justice and love. Along with lessons of maths, language and science, it was essential for Sahni to inculcate lessons of equality, peace and empathy. Through its schools and outreach initiatives (SHEF) has trained 24,000 teachers and impacted more than 5 lakh children, most of whom are girls from marginalized communities. SHEF directly provides education to over 4000 students, all girls who attend school learn about their rights in the Indian society and more than 50% are employed.

Pioneering effort of SHEF

With a vision to help girls learn that they are equal persons, deserving respect, and have a right to live a life of their choosing she opened Prerna Girls School, for which it took her decades to design the curriculum of developing the rights-based, empowering approach to education that the school uses today. Critical Feminist Pedagogy focuses on teachers and students sitting together in a circle where they share their life incidents, understand the oppression and its causes ultimately leading to life-transforming outcomes. The foremost component on how they gained success is by ‘’Gender Studies’’ where teachers are trained to be advocates, along with videos of girls who have been successful in the past to empower more girl students to choose their right to be equal and free. School pedagogy pushed girls to reflect on their lives and to develop strategies to stand up for themselves which shows in their results, school has an 88% school completion rate (double the national rate).

She didn’t end there since she understood that the issue lies in the patriarchal social structure and there is a need to refine manhood, she moved on to opening Prerna Boys School where boys were educated not just in regular academics but most importantly to treat girls as equal persons. Exercises like where boys are asked to observe their sisters daily and understand that the onus lies on them equally to promote girl education and propagate the idea of equality.

Urvashi addressed the issues of girl education first since it seemed to be more urgent and they are the victims of Patriarchy but boys were important as well, she focused on changing mindsets when they are young, invoke the thinking of how to be changemakers and make the world an equal space for all irrespective of gender.

Dr Sahni’s Exemplary Achievements

Dr Urvashi Sahni is the World Economic Forum’s India Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2017. Dr Sahni is an Ashoka Fellow, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Universal Education at The Brookings Institution, USA, and is currently a member of Chief Minister’s Advisory Council, Rajasthan. Dr Urvashi founded Suraksha, a women’s rights organization; DiDi’s – a social enterprise. Additionally, she founded Suraksha, a women’s rights organization; DiDi’s – a social enterprise for sustainable livelihoods for women and the Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF). Dr Urvashi is a leading expert in school governance, curriculum reform, and teacher training with a special focus on girls’ education. Helping students find a meaningful expression of themselves in their work, to make sense of their life is what Urvashi loves about her work.

How has it been during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The digital divide becomes clear, technology-driven education needed to be accessible and available to students of SHEF. Creativity was an important fact where teachers stepped up, teaching how to use technology to leapfrog was kept primary focus by the NGO by community-based canters in a program called ‘’GyanSetu’’ program which means bridges of knowledge where teachers guide students, outreach was increased due to limitations.

Today we are lacking social inclusion, we can’t rely on the government for providing infrastructure and equal rights to all. We must mobilize entrepreneurial and innovative ways which tackle the big problem to make an impact now and in the future.

“If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is WOMEN!” – Desmond Tutu


  1. Study Hall Education Foundation
  2. Mint, Urvashi Sahi, Founder of SHEF
  3. Time, How One Indian School Is Working To End Child Marriages
Shefali Chhaya is currently pursuing MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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