Gendering Higher Education in India: A Social Perspective


University Journal of Society
ISSN: Applied, Year 2021, Vol. 01, No. 01
Article | PDF Version

Ghanshyam Kushwaha

Assistant Professor, Sociology, Pt. D. D. U. Govt. Girls’ Degree College Sewapuri, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India, Email:

Received: 13.01.2020, Accepted: 26.01.2020, Published: (forthcoming) 26.11.2021, Pg. No. 25-31
Content ID: UJS/2021/V01N01/C02


Education is the most powerful tool which ensures holistic and long overall development. Women education and empowerment are the indicators of development. It is believed that access to education is a telling indicator of women’s status in a given society. Cultural perceptions of the roles which women are expected to fill are reflected in the extent to which women participate in formal education and the type of education to which they have access. It is believed that primary level education is now widely available for all and opportunities for secondary and higher education are increasing. Women enrolment in higher education is also increasing but at a slow rate. In seeking to explain, this paper deals with the under-representation of women in higher education and reflects on the reasons that cause adverse consequences. In this paper, I would like to analyze the new education policy and also examine the institutional factors which directly and indirectly hinder women’s participation across society in higher education.


Cultural and Gender, Education and Empowerment, Education and Social Change, Indicators of Development, National Education Policy 2020, Women in Higher Education, Women’s’ Education

“A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people”. -Jawahar Lal Nehru

Education systems are used to judge the worth and capability of individuals irrespective of gender across the world. We all know that educated people are boon for the effective progress of any society. So the policy of education system makes the basic foundation and holds the base for learned citizens. To make it more impact and effective, educational institutions play a pivotal role. These institutions issue the certificates and mark-sheets to the students for further education as a measure to individual’s capabilities. Since education is the foremost fellow of a student to achieve its goal. These certificates become the most powerful tools to measure the capability of the individual. Indian education journey has been astonishing since Independence. As per census 2011, India has the largest student population in the world. According to the Census 2011, it shows that Indian education system has certainly achieved a milestone by improving literacy rate by a quantum jump from 17% in 1947 to 74% in 2011. Still, we are lacking much behind when we compare it with global average of 84%. Hence, although a lot of progress has been already made, we still have a long way to go. Apart from this if we analyze the literacy rate from gender perspective; we find that in India, it is 65.5 percent among females whereas among males it is 82.1 percent.

It is interesting to note that the major cause for high female illiteracy rates is characterized by rural poverty. They are also bound by society’s cultural and religious beliefs dictating the separation of the sexes in key areas of public life. Illiteracy and poverty go together because they are similar expressions of lack of access to resources in society. The greater incidence of illiteracy among women than among men is primarily due to the sexual division of labour. This kind of division requires the girls work at home, and also their sexuality be controlled by men. It refers to the direct discouraging many parents from sending their girls to school after they reach pubescence (Stromquist, 1989). There have been consistent findings showing greater participation of girls than boys in daily housekeeping tasks, from water drawing to child minding. In developing countries like India, the state deplores poverty and illiteracy but does little to correct it.

To impart, literacy programs for women was launched in 1988 by India as part of its National Literacy Mission. It identifies the following benefits from women’s literacy, i.e., increased participation in primary education, reduced infant mortality, greater success in child care and immunizations, declined fertility rates, boosting self-confidence and creating self-image among women and greater awareness by women of their social and legal rights. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its preamble, fundamental rights, fundamental duties and directive principles. Access, equity, women participation and empowerment have been an issue of deliberations all around the world. Higher education provided to women would mean independence in decision making and economic independence.

Unlike women’s illiteracy, women’s participation in higher education shows a progressively narrowing gender gap. Women are still underrepresented, particularly in developing country like India, where they account for 28 percent of the total post-secondary enrollment. National Achievement Survey 2015 reveals that Girls’ enrolment rate stands only 23.5% against 25.4% for boys in higher education during 2015-16.

Does higher education function to enable men to assume dominant positions in society? Or does it prepare elite of middle and upper-class women? The available evidence suggests a two-fold dynamic by which the dominant male positions are reproduced and at the same time women of upper classes are given an opportunity to become more educated in the fields of their choice. As per this evidence, a choice is clearly tempered and shaped by cultural values and ideologies about femininity and masculinity. According to P. Bourdieu, cultural reproduction is the social process through which culture is reproduced across generations, especially through the socializing influence of major institutions. Bourdieu applied the concept in particular to the ways in which social institutions such as schools are used to pass along cultural ideas that underlie and support the privileged position of the dominant or upper class. Thus we can simply understand that cultural reproduction is part of a larger process of social change and social reproduction through which entire societies and their cultural, structural, and ecological characteristics are reproduced. However, gender differences in higher education are the cumulative impact of notions of femininity and masculinity that the state fails to modify or that it deliberately uses to promote a particular form of social development.

The state plays a key role in the management of gender relations. As Connell observes (1987), the state is a gendered and gendering institution. It is gendered in the composition of its authorities and it is gendering through its management of ideology and economic relations. All contemporary states are predominantly male: male in terms of their top and mid-level leadership and in terms of the interests they seek to serve (see also Chafetz, 1990). This condition does not forecast that the state will always be oppressive of women. It simply acknowledges that the parameters for state support give priority to heterosexual males, who carry the highest prestige in any modern society.

Another factor which inhibits women’s participation in higher education is violence. Violence against women is a problem across the World. The nature of violence against women can be domestic as well as public, physical, emotional or mental. The phenomenon of violence against women arises from patriarchal notions of ownership over women’s bodies, sexuality, labor, reproductive rights, mobility and level of autonomy. Violence against women prohibits them to get less importance and stay away from education system. Thus again create a severe problem for women to face injustices. In order to eliminate these multi pronged injustices, education has been regarded as the most significant instrument for changing women’s subjugated position in the society. It not only develops the personality and rationality of individuals, but qualifies them to fulfill certain economic, political and cultural functions and thereby improves their socio-economic status. One of the most vital expectations from educational development of society is the reduction in the inequality among individuals. This is why Education was included as the basic right of every human being in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Apart from patriarchal and cultural norms, child marriage becomes the second most important factors which inhibit girls’ education. This ultimately leads as a barrier to a girl’s education, being the reason of approximately 32% of dropouts for girls in secondary school. This stacks the odds against girls’ education and leads to dropouts. It is, in fact, not a coincidence that the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are also among the countries with the highest gender disparities in secondary education enrollment. Low educational attainment is both the cause and the consequence of child marriage: girls with less access to education are more likely to marry early, and conversely, child marriage means the end of a girl’s education. The Right to Education Act appears to be playing its part in helping girls stay in school it is time to amend it to extend it to secondary education. The government’s slogan of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ cannot be achieved without a fundamental right to secondary education institutions available and accessible for all, especially girls.

Meanwhile, The National Education Policy drafted and submitted by K. Kasturirangan Committee is a timely intervention to holistically review our education system from early childhood care to higher education. It has suggested covering all children from age 3 to 6 under early childhood care by 2025. It also recommends extending Right to Education to pre-school and secondary school education from age of 3 to 18 years old. This would certainly address the important issue of high dropout rate at secondary level in schools. It is evident that there are so many opportunities that women and girls stand to miss if they are not exposed to education and training opportunities. Right from early childhood, through education shapes children learn how to read and write, think, act, perceive, interpret, communicate and articulate ideas. Thus, education in this way shaping the future of every society. It also helps in developing personality of individual.

India spends much lower on education as compared to other countries (2.7 of GDP) like China and USA. National Education Policy, 1986 had already recommended increasing education expenditure to 6% of GDP. But it was not followed by subsequent governments. Even there has been a sincere demand from children of different deprived sections of the society. It is well known fact that despite India being a middle-income country, about 8.1 million children (aged between 6-14 years) ware still out of school during 2009. ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ (the Keep Your Promises campaign) is a coalition of CSOs that tackled the issue of education through the Nine is Mine campaign, which was launched in 2006 and called on the Indian government to spend 9% of GDP on education. Recent draft reiterates the same suggestion. Further, it also asks government to enhance research expenditure which is mere 0.7% of GDP at present.

Though, the New Education policy has reviewed all sectors of education very well but has certainly created a new arena for the private sector which is not a good sign for developing country like India. This is what now happening in India. Prof. Krishna Kumar said, “The policy to gradually let the state withdraw from higher education is based on the broader economic ideology that it is best to leave higher education to private hands. In fact, this had begun in professional education areas even before the liberalization process had started”. The governments are reckless allowing private individuals to run educational institutes. The private individuals are selling education according to their benefits and norms of the markets. As a result, we have failed to nurture educational values, critical thinking and path breaking research in our universities and colleges. Thus question arise whether we achieve the goal of quality education for all, which is also Sustainable Development Goal- 4. It ensures inclusive and equitable quality of education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all. It also plays a central role in building sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies.

In 2020, we are celebrating twenty-five years since the Beijing Declaration was operationalised. It was a platform and framework that has globally set precedence on the need to exclusively empower women and girls everywhere. In the global scenario, the emerging concern over women’s right, the last two decades have witnessed a tremendous gained momentum which has compelled the governments to ensure women and girls are included in the planning and provision of social economic basic needs.

When it comes to the topic of education system prevailing in India, every student must have faced somehow of its limitations directly or indirectly. The article does focus the flaws in the National Education Policy (NEP) but the explanation provided for some of the flaws is not fully covered. There are some drawbacks which can be seen in the allocation of financial assets provided by the government which may be insufficient for providing proper infrastructure for training to the teachers. Being a welfare country, India must focus on wellbeing of the people and society and not for making profits. Many reforms have been introduced by the government in the policy till now but it fails to provide the expected results only because of its inappropriate implementation. It is true that failing children would not ensure learning but the solution for inculcating knowledge can be teaching according to their ability to learn because every individual learns at the different pace and so it is difficult to teach by a common method. This leads in providing proper training to the teachers. Privatization would further create inequalities in the quality of education when compared with government sector. Education cannot be a business product of the system. We are not supposed to do business in the name of imparting knowledge. As Aristotle has rightly said that knowledge is one of the most important virtues that define the character of an individual person. Thus it is the moral duty and obligation of every welfare state to give accessible education to the every section of the society. State shouldn’t outsource education to private parties. India stands the largest democracy in the world with diverse nature of social and cultural structure. There is wide range of gap between rich and poor and thus education must be for all. So the democratic values and virtues can be acquired only through good education. Education is a basic fundamental right. Privatized education cannot provide us with this because it is entirely dependent on market rules.


Being born as a girl into this world seems to be a curse. Women have and continue to suffer various degrees of injustices and inequalities spanning from cultural, social, economic, religious, and political matters. The preference for boys in the family’s education investment, the gendered division of household labor and long distances to travel to school are only some of the structural barriers and discriminatory social norms that contribute to gender inequality in education. These negative attitudes have affected women’s educational opportunities. But globally, education is recognized as the fundamental human rights- where every child has the right to receive quality basic education.

To produce collective changes in gender relations the education of women will need not only to uncover structures of power but also to create positive representations. The question that emerges, however, is: what chance do these efforts have of receiving support from a wider set of women? In order for more women and girls to access education, we must address root cause of illiteracy such as; patriarchy, child marriage, Gender Based Violence, poverty, minimal investment in education infrastructure, lack of adequate policies and mechanisms to address gender equality and equity. Empowerment of women would mean equipping women to be educationally sound, economically independent, self-reliant and have a positive self-esteem to enable them to face any difficult situation that they should be able to participate in developmental activities. This is an area that requires careful scrutiny, the role of state, the notion of gender and class which are often linked with powerful nexus. Taking education as empowered tools, if women and girls boldly explore opportunities that come their way and governments invest in all-inclusive provisions of basic needs of their human population, gender equality can be achieved.




Kushwaha, Ghanshyam, 2021, “Gendering Higher Education in India: A Social Perspective”, University Journal of Society, (08.08.2021), accessed <date of accessed>

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