New Delhi, Dec 6 (IANS) If you educate a girl, you educate an entire community, union Minister of State for Human Resource Development (HRD) Shashi Tharoor said while stressing that one of every three women in the country was illiterate even today.
"If I had to pick the one thing we must do above all else, I now offer a two-word mantra: 'educate girls'," Tharoor said Wednesday while delivering the 18th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture at the India International Centre here.
"Scholarly studies and research projects have established what common sense might have already have told us: that if you educate a boy, you educate a person, but if you educate a girl, you educate a family and benefit an entire community," Tharoor added.
"It is a matter of deep national concern that even today nearly one out of every three women in our country is illiterate," Tharoor noted.
Tharoor also commented on the challenges facing the government in educating girl children. "Our experience suggests that while at the primary level the enrolment rates for girls and boys are roughly identical, sustaining the girl child through the education system remains a challenge."
He summarised the importance of female education, saying: "All our claims to be the world's largest democracy will ring hollow in the face of persistent gender discrimination with regard to access to education and in particular to top quality education. The continuing difference between our enrolment ratio for boys and girls at most levels of our education system is a national shame."
Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, who was the chief guest, said: "Any country which does not care for its women is not on the path to success and development."
"Education is necessary not only for taking women out of their difficulties but also educating men on how important women are in their lives," Kabir added.
Justice Leila Seth (Retd), the first woman chief justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh), said: "Educating women is of great importance in a world filled with gender inequality and disadvantage. The gender literacy gap in India is 17 percent."
According to figures available with the union HRD ministry, in 1951, India had a literacy rate of 18.3 percent, 27.2 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women. In 2011, the rate rose to 82.1 percent for men and 65.5 percent for women.
The lecture is an annual feature, organised by the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation on topics and issues concerning gender equality.