(Mint file)
(Mint file)

Opinion | For a femographic dividend

Our women need to be educated not just for its positive social outcomes, but also for the sake of our economy

India has the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s highest rates of adult illiteracy. Speaking at an event, former President Pranab Mukherjee has brought up the wide chasm between male and female literacy. It’s about time a leader of his stature did. Although the overall literacy rate has risen multi-fold since Independence from 18% (Census 1951) to 73% in the last Census, the upward trend masks dismal disparities. A break-up of the national average reveals that while the rate of literacy for men is 80.9 %, for women it is only 64.6 %. This means that more than every third Indian woman is still illiterate.

While some might derive comfort from the fact that the latest female literacy rate represents a 10.4 percentage-point increase from Census 2001, the pace of the increase is too slow. Ten years, after all, is long enough for mid-schoolers to become adults. The country’s female literacy is 18.1 percentage points below the world average of 82.7%. India fare worse than such countries as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

There do exist government schemes to address the problem, but how well they are working is open to question. Study after study has concluded that female education not only has a significant impact on the welfare of future generations, it also addresses problems like high infant mortality. Also, lack of education among women skews the women’s labour force participation rate, which tends to hinder economic growth. Our women need to be educated not just for its positive social outcomes, but also for the sake of our economy.

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