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In Gujarat's Meghraj, 77% girls "missed" school to fetch water, look after siblings: Ahmedabad workshop told

By Rajiv Shah
An Australian government-sponsored pilot project, meant to create technical awareness for sustainable groundwater use among villagers of two semi-arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan, has revealed how, despite huge official claims, water scarcity continues to bog the regions, adversely impacting girl child education in a big way.
Called MARVI or Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention, a study report prepared for implementing the project in a meaningful way in the two rural areas, says that whopping 77% girls “missed” school due to home duties, which included collecting water.
Carried out in Meghraj in Gujarat and Dharta in Rajasthan, the study, said a participant in a two-day national workshop in Ahmedabad on groundwater monitoring and recharge, which began on May 30, was carried out by a group of about dozen scholars led by R Kookana and published in the “International Journal of Inclusive Education” (2016).
Titled “Groundwater scarcity impact on inclusiveness and women empowerment: Insights from school absenteeism of female students in two watersheds in India”, the study is based on a survey conducted in secondary schools of Meghraj and Dharta in order to “assess students’ perceptions about groundwater scarcity issues and the impact of the scarcity on educational opportunities of school students”.
Two main types of data were used in the study; survey responses to detailed questionnaire by a cohort of students in both watersheds and school attendance records for year 8 class students (aged 13 to 14 years).
Pointing out that “responses gathered via a socio-economic survey involving 500 families in the study area were also used to interpret the results”, the study says, in both the areas, identified as “watersheds”, more 90% students identified groundwater scarcity as a major issue.”
“Approximately 94% of the surveyed students were involved in household work, with female respondents helping by fetching drinking water form a nearby well, cooking, cleaning the home and looking after younger siblings”, the survey said.
Confirming that access to water remains a pipedream for the villagers, the study, whose contents were handed over to the participants at the workshop, says, “A large number of women continue to travel many times a day to collect water for various uses. Women travel an average of three times a day for 50 to 77 minutes per trip to collect drinking water, depending on the season.”
Suggesting how the Gujarat government’s kanya kelavani or girl child education drive has failed as a result of this factor, the study says, “Approximately 68% of the surveyed students in Gujarat arrived late or left school early due to household duties while 65% of students sometimes missed school altogether.”
It underlines, “A clear link between gender and school attendance was noted. For example in Gujarat, while 40% of male students missed school, the number of females missing school due to home duties was nearly twice as much (77%).”
A Meghraj hamlet
The study acknowledges that “approximately 65% of the surveyed parents indicated that their daughters have either missed school or were late in going to school because they were helping them collect water for domestic use.”
The study comments, the “demand on students, especially females, to undertake household work such as fetching drinking water and consequent school absenteeism highlighted that groundwater scarcity in the study area is a contributing factor towards limiting educational and economic opportunities available especially to female students.”
It adds, “In general, the groundwater scarcity can be one of the key factors that can limit empowerment of women and therefore any policy changes or initiatives to improve empowerment need to consider water availability issues.”

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