ROLE OF EDUCATION IN WOMEN'S AUTONOMY

 

ROLE OF EDUCATION IN WOMEN’S AUTONOMY
*M.K. Raina (Ratnakar)

Education can affect people’s lives through several channels. It affects access to knowledge, information, and new ideas. It enhances overall efficiency, market opportunities, and social status. It also changes attitudes and behaviours, among other things, bringing about an openness to new ideas and experiences, an increasing independence from traditional authority, and questioning of passivity.

These effects apply generally to both sexes. However, young adult men are exposed to new ideas through their wider contacts with the world outside family and local community, as well as through formal schooling.

Education enables women to assume more autonomy or power in both traditional gender – stratified family settings. This enhanced autonomy takes the form of decision – making authority within the home, economic and social autonomy and self – reliance, emotional autonomy, the ability to forge close conjugal bonds, and physical autonomy in interacting with the outside world. These aspects of autonomy are acquired by men, in contrast, irrespective of their formal education and largely as a matter of course, simply by virtue of their gender.

Schooling increases a woman’s knowledge and competence in all sectors of contemporary life; broadens her access to information via the mass media and written material; develops her intellectual capacities and exposes her to interpersonal competition and achievement; gives her an opportunity to pursue non – familial roles; raises her image of her potential and that of her children; and, simultaneously, imparts a sense of efficacy and trust in modern science and technology, which encourages a woman to control her fate and body. It also changes her outlook on the world as being controllable and raises her sense of self – worth.

The five separate but interdependent elements of autonomy that are influenced by education are:-

  • Knowledge autonomy: education enhances women’s knowledge of and exposure to the outside world;
  • Decision making autonomy: education strengthen women’s say in family decision and decisions concerning their own lives and well – being;
  • Physical autonomy in interacting with the outside world: educated women face fewer constraints to physical mobility and have more self-confidence in dealing with the outside world and in extracting the most from available services;
  • Emotional autonomy : education encourages a shift in loyalties from extended kin to the conjugal family and promotes greater bonding or intimacy between spouses and between parents and children and less self – denial among women; and
  • Economic and social autonomy and self – reliance: education increase women’s self – reliance in economic matters as well as self – reliance for social acceptance and status. In particular, education enhances women’s economic independence and improves both access to and control over economic resources; it also enhances women’s ability to rely on themselves, rather than on their children or husbands, to attain social status or acceptance.

ENHANCED KNOWLEDGE OF, GREATER EXPOSURE TO, THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Schooling is expected to impart literacy, numeracy and other cognitive skills. Greater amounts of education are expected to strengthen mastery over language and numbers and to promote a deeper understanding of several subjects. The effect of education is significant for both numeracy and literacy, as measured by reading and writing and arithmetic tests. However, the effect differs with the level of schooling. For literacy, a lower primary education (one to three years) has a weak though significant effect for men and, especially, for women, whereas completion of four years has a significantly greater effect. This finding suggests that four years of schooling may represent a threshold for literacy.

 
Education has powerful indirect effects on values and outlooks which result not necessarily from the curriculum itself but from the act of attending school and interacting with teachers and peers. These changes in values and outlooks include, for both women and men, a shift away from fatalism and superstition, brought about by the acquisition of greater reasoning powers and a reliance on scientific explanations for everyday phenomena.

Education moves women from a reliance on others to greater self – reliance and, correspondingly, to a greater questioning of traditional authority.

Education provides women with knowledge about the treatment and prevention of illness, infant feeding, and the prevention of unwanted births. The most obvious change is the knowledge of the causes, prevention and cure of disease, and children’s nutritional requirements.

Educated women tend to be more aware of personal hygiene, household and courtyard sanitation and cleanliness, the health benefits of a more equitable distribution of food in the household, the need for rest during sickness, and the need for speedy treatment of illness and injuries.

Education exposes women to new ideas which may be incompatible with having many children and which can lead them, more generally, to question the old ways of life. Better educated women have more skills in expressing ideas and asking questions. Better educated women are also more exposed to television and reading materials. Better educated women are more likely to read and more likely to watch educational programmes on television than uneducated women. They are also more likely to keep up with current affairs. Educated adolescent girls are more likely to have non-domestic hobbies than uneducated girls.

In a traditional setting, educated women are respected for their knowledge, however grudgingly. Even older uneducated women who, in many cultures, traditionally wield considerable power over the young, acknowledge the power of educated women’s knowledge.

GREATER DECISION – MAKING AUTONOMY IN THE HOME

Education for women is greater decision – making autonomy within the home. Uneducated young women are rarely permitted to make a decision or voice an opinion; educated women are more confident of their ability to make decisions and more likely to insist on participating in family decisions. Such decisions range from those related to child care and feeding, to those related to family expenditures and to contraception and family – size limitation.

In gender- stratified settings, educated women do not assume a greater decision – making role as they are conceded greater decision – making power by their husbands and extended family elders. Parents recognize that an educated daughter – in - law may resist decisions imposed on her by other family members and that an unhappy, educated daughter may have the power to draw their son’s loyalty away from them, either emotionally or by insisting on setting up a separate household. Thus, shrewd in – laws may hedge their bets by conceding as many decisions to their daughter - in – laws as is necessary for preserving the family unit.

A small amount of education might give women the freedom to make decisions in the domestic spheres most relevant to them, notably with regard to child health, internal food distribution, and other aspects of behaviour related to conjugal family, and possibly with regard to sexual relations with their husbands.

It takes the attainment of considerably more education, specially in highly gender – stratified societies, before women overcome these cultural constraints and are involved in decisions seen as major to the household, such as those relating to the household’s honour or its economic survival. A small amount of education, however, would not necessarily change the traditional locus of major household decisions, such as large purchases, family marriage negotiations, or sexual controls on unmarried girls.

Better educated women are more likely to make independent decisions. A combination of four less and more important decisions, both day - to – day household decisions involving child health and daily purchases, and ‘major’ decisions entailing the clothing purchases for the children and the woman herself are the most important in the process.

The proportion of women involved in all four decisions has increased marginally in the last decade from 18 percent among uneducated women to 24 percent and 26 percent among primary – and middle – school – educated women and more sharply to 40 per cent among secondary – schooled women. Women require some secondary education before they experience major gains in decision - making, especially when the range of decisions goes beyond those pertaining to everyday life.

Better educated women are more likely to agree that women should have a say in important family – size decisions, regardless of their age. In gender – stratified cultures, even educated young women expect to be excluded from decisions pertaining to family finances.


GREATER PHYSICAL AUTONOMY IN INTERACTING WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Education is expected to enhance women’s interaction with the outside world in two ways. The first applies in highly gender – stratified settings which restrict women’s physical mobility; educated women in these settings are expected to have more freedom of movement than uneducated women have. The second applies more generally. Better educated women are expected to have more self – confidence in dealing with the outside world and in extracting more from available services than other women do.

PHYSICAL MOBILITY
Educated women face fewer restrictions on physical mobility. Educated women travel freely outside the village locality, and more likely to veil themselves in public and also do not require a male escort when out of the village.

SELF CONFIDENCE
Educated women have more self – confidence in interacting with the outside world.

Not only are better educated women more likely to know of available services and to make decisions regarding use of these services, they are also more likely to use these services appropriately, demand them as a right and not as a favour, and extract far more from them than uneducated women do. With greater education comes a grater responsiveness to new services, more self – confidence in interacting with officials and service providers.

Educated women use modern preventive and curative health services to continue treatment with greater timeliness to demand a greater quality of care and continue treatment with greater persistence and accuracy.
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GREATER EMOTIONAL AUTONOMY : CLOSER EMOTIONAL BONDS WITH HUSBAND AND CHILDREN

Increased female education implies several changes in family dynamics. These include a greater intimacy between spouses, an increased loyalty to the conjugal unit and a correspondingly greater child orientation. The closer conjugal bonds which education promotes are expected to affect fertility in several ways. Increased intimacy with husbands may allow educated women to engage in freer discussion of contraception and family-size preferences; it may also result in a reluctance to adhere to traditional lengthy post-partum abstinence taboos or a reluctance to practice prolonged breastfeeding, with sexual relations discouraged during the period of breastfeeding. Also the quest for intimacy within marriage may lengthen the search for a husband among educated women and, there by delay marriage among them.

Educated women are more likely to forge a close relationship with their husbands, implying greater social equality and emotional intimacy between spouses. With the strengthening of the spousal link, women can become more independent of the extended family, emotionally and, in some cases, residentially. Close spousal ties are one reason why better educated women are somewhat more likely to reside in nuclear families than uneducated women. Even when they reside in extended families, educated women display a greater intimacy with their husbands than uneducated women. Educated women have closer ties to their husbands.

GREATER ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AUTONOMY AND SELF - RELIANCE

Perhaps most important is the contribution of education to women’s economic and social self-reliance. Educated women have greater control over material resources than do uneducated women.

SELF- RELIANCE IN OLD AGE
Educated women, once they have crossed the middle – school threshold, intend to rely on their own resources in old age, either replacing or, more likely, complementing support from their sons. Educated women are more likely to expect to rely on their own income or savings from old age and, more immediately, for their children’s education.

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
Education opens economic opportunities for women and increases their participation in the wage sector and such independent source of income. The more education both women and men have, the higher their earnings.

CONTROL OVER USE OF EARNINGS
Economic activity does not, by itself enhance women’s control over material resources or power in the household. What is equally necessary for enhancing self – reliance is that working women have a say in how their earnings are used. In highly gender –stratified settings, working women, irrespective of education, are often expected to turn over their earnings to their husbands, mothers – in – law, or other senior members of the household, giving the women little opportunity to decide on their use. In these circumstances, work can hardly be expected to give educated women control over resources or economic self-reliance.

Educated women are in a better position to control family resources irrespective of their work status. It has been pointed out that access to, or the right to use, someone else’s resources is a weak substitute for control over one’s own environment; the former implies only the right to use or consume resources with the permission of those who hold the right to dispose of them. Education enhances women’s self – reliance, economic independence, and control over resources; this link has repercussions on family – size preferences and contraception, on the one hand, and on delayed marriage, on the other.

*M.K.Raina Ratnakar is an Indian Broadcasting Service Officer, an Educationist and a Media expert.In the realm of education ,his guidance on the matters of education for women and children is highly valued.As a brodcaster he has made striking achievements in making his listeners see through the most delicate experiences and experiments he has made in the field of communication.His gifts of observation with the magical abilities of a timely trained educationist and a communicator have been exhibited by him in the organisations of his work.

He has authored a number of books,the best sellers of which have been:- * Intruded Moorings- the Kashmir perespective.,**An Intelligent Parent's/ Teacher's Guide To Success and Achievement of the Child., ***Spoken English Skills. His latest book titled as Surreal Moments will soon be available on the stalls. He is working as Senior Director in in the office of Directorate General ,Doordarshan.

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