Women in India

Although India elected its first female president in July, 2007, the country is still not a land of equal opportunity for women. While women are gaining some higher positions within the government, only 11.6% of the seats in the Upper House and 8.3% of the seats in the Lower House of Parliament are held by women (India: Women’s status at a glance, n.d.). In education as well as government, the status of women in India is still not the same as men. The literacy rate in 2007 was only 47.8% of women while it is 73.4% of men (India: Women’s status at a glance, n.d.). The Indian government itself has acknowledged that educating its girls needs to be a priority. The National Policy on Education, 1986, as revised in 1992, states, “education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women.” Even in the area of science and technology, the government of India has acknowledged that it needs to be more supportive of women. In its formal Science and Technology Policy 2001 (p. 2 para. 4), the Government of India describes its policy objectives and says that one element is, “to encourage the participation of all sections of the population in science and technology endeavors and to ensure the creation of conditions that permit the full participation of women scientists and technologists in all areas of research and development.”

India has adopted the Millennium Development Goal of the September 2000 UN Summit of World Leaders to achieve universal primary school attendance for boys and girls (Bhalotra & Zamora, 2006). The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a government initiative created to help the country achieve universalized elementary education. One of its objectives is to promote equal educational opportunities for girls. In the Annual Report 2006-2007 (p. 14, para. 2), the SSA states, “a two pronged strategy adopted for the promotion of girls education is to make the education system responsive to the needs of girls, on the one hand, and generate a community demand for girls education, on the other.” This statement acknowledges the cultural barriers that exist for educating girls in India. In many parts of the country, negative parental attitudes towards educating a daughter hinder the education of girls. While many parents view a son’s education as an investment (his future employment will support them in their retirement), some see a daughter’s education as a waste of money because she will go to live with her husband’s family when she marries. In some families, an educated daughter requires a higher dowry expense because she wants an equally educated husband. However, in other cases, an educated daughter can actually have a smaller dowry if her education is seen as an asset by her future husband’s family (Velkoff, 1998).

The efforts that the government has been making to promote universal primary education seems to be working, especially for girls. The school attendance rate for all 6-11 year olds rose from 69.5% in 1992/3 to 82.5% in 1998/9, with a 16.3% increase in the attendance rate for girls (Bhalotra & Zamora, 2006, Table 5). The drop out rate at the primary school level for all children dropped from 39.09% in 2001/2 to 28.49% in 2004/5, but for girls the drop-out rate was reduced by 15.08% during that period (Annual Report, 2007, p. 26). Girls’ enrollment in relation to total enrollment increased by 8.67% at the primary level from 2001/2 to 2004/5. The SSA, through the creation of focused initiatives, has been specifically targeting areas with low rates of female literacy and is focusing on out-of-school girls, especially from the disadvantaged parts of the country. The government also offers financial incentives to off set the cost of education to socially disadvantaged children, including girls (Annual Report, 2007).

At the university level, especially in science and technology fields, women in India have historically been underrepresented. Overall, only a small percentage of the entire Indian population receives a college education. In 1993, the figures were just over 3% of men and 1% of women went to college. At that time, only about 1/3 of the total college students were women (Velkoff, 1998, p. 3, para. 4) In engineering programs, women accounted for a much smaller proportion of the total number of students and in education about 1/2 of the students were women. According to more recent statistics, this situation is improving. In her paper published in August, 2006, Ranjana Agarwal reports that women comprise 20-25% of the total science and engineering graduates in India. However, another report stated that the percentage of women engineers graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay increased from 1.8% in 1972 to only 8% in 2005 (Simard, 2007). In 2006, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Dehli, India, graduated a total of 151 students with Master’s and Doctorate Degrees in Science disciplines. Of those degrees, 30.6% of the Master’s and 38.2% of the Doctorates were awarded to women (personal communication, July 31, 2007) Compare that with the 2005 graduation statistics from the University of Central Florida, College of Engineering and Computer Science, where 15% of the Undergraduate, 26% of the Master’s and 13% of the Doctorate Degrees were awarded to women (Fast Facts, 2005). Dr. Prakash herself noted that in her mother’s lifetime, very women studied in scientific fields and those that did were mostly in medicine or education. During her time in college, she saw more women studying science, but mostly the increase was in Life Sciences and there still weren’t many women in Engineering, Physics and Mathematics. Over the past 20 years, she has noticed that more women are studying science and technology careers of all kinds (personal communication, July 21, 2007).

One measure of technology availability in a country is its citizens’ internet use. In India, the total number of internet users rose from .01 million in 1995 to 18 million in 2003 (Agarwal, 2006). Of those 18 million, only 23% were women. However, the internet is being used as a tool to empower women in India. Through a program set up by the Indian Institute of Technology, internet cafes and kiosks are being established throughout India. Not only are these kiosks providing internet access to women in rural areas, but 80% of the cafes and kiosks are actually run by women (BBC News, 2004). Many of the women who are running these kiosks have had little or no previous contact with internet technology. The internet access itself is being used as a tool of information, communication and employment for women. In some places, internet technology is being used specifically to empower women by training them in nutrition, disaster management, health, child development and leadership via internet training programs and interactive satellite communication (Agarwal, 2006). One organization, SMILE (Savitri Marketing Institution for Ladies Empowerment), uses internet technology to increase literacy among women and help them sell their handicrafts.



  1. mentalimaging said,

    July 30, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you for this post. As an American, many of the Indian women I meet are highly educated. It was good to get background information on what the situation is in India and to learn that things are getting better.

  2. shalini suri said,

    August 23, 2007 at 8:06 am

    the article is well-written.needs more of statistical data.i am keen on working on women’s education for my Ph.d.would like to know your area of interest.

  3. galardit said,

    August 23, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    My report was done for a Women’s Studies class titled “Gender and Technology.” We had to study a female scientist from another culture. I found it very hard to get good statistics about education for women in India. I would have put in more statistical data, but the focus of my report was Dr. Prakash herself. This page about the status of women in India was included just to give a frame of reference for Dr. Prakash’s achievements as a female scientist in India.

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