This story is part of a campaign run by the GEM Report, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 GEM Gender Report. The campaign tells the stories of many girls who were the first in their family to graduate, demonstrating progress in gender equality in education that the Report shows has taken place since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago. The campaign aims to amplify the message that an equal generation is an educated one.
I am 24 years old. I come from an impoverished background, but I have worked my way up to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. I want to be a District Collector—a government officer in charge of the revenue and administration of an entire district. My struggle to achieve my dream of an education has empowered me and given me the ability to overcome all the obstacles that life presents.
This is my story.
My mother is an agricultural labourer and runs a savings group. My father, who is speech and hearing impaired, works as a casual labourer. I have 3 siblings; both my sisters—one older and one younger, were child brides, and my younger brother is in grade 12.
After completing grade 7 in Sone Sangvi village, I wanted to study further, but the nearest high school was in Nimgaon Bhogi, a village 4 kilometers away. Generally, parents only bought bicycles for their sons to attend distant high schools, but when Ashta No Kai, a local NGO, offered bicycles to girls, I applied for one. Previously, it had taken me almost an hour to get to school. Owning a bicycle not only saved me time, but also enabled me to run errands for the family, such as buying groceries and fetching water. Furthermore, the bicycle eased my mother’s fears about my safety, and gave me independence.
Thanks to the bicycle and the self-confidence I acquired in the Life Skills Education program, I convinced my family to allow me to continue my education beyond grade 10. I also convinced them to allow me to take Science, giving examples of how my hard work previously had won me government scholarships. I also managed to negotiate a reduction in fees with the junior college principal.
Another major obstacle was that my college was 18 kilometres away, and reachable by a bus that stopped approximately 8 kilometers from my house. I decided to use my bicycle to get to the bus stop and I negotiated with my family to overcome their concerns. My mother was especially supportive of my pursuit of education, mainly because she herself had not received an education, and had suffered because of it. She stood by me and overruled family members who opposed allowing a girl to study beyond grade 10.
After I completed grade 12, I received several marriage proposals, because people knew I was an intelligent girl. I rejected the offers to focus on my career. Many relatives pressured me to get married, but I was resolute in my decision not to marry until I had achieved my academic goals.
If the organisation, Ashta No Kai, had not had a presence in my village, I probably would have been married off before age 18, and could never have dreamed of further education.
I got married last year, but I negotiated with my husband and in-laws to continue to pursue my dream of passing the Indian Administrative Services exam. If I can become a District Collector, I will be able to help the needy and poor, and realize my dream of serving society. If not, I will become a social worker.