CFPL's "Impact India" in focus on U.N. Day of the Girl Child
This Friday will be the second annual U.N. Day of the Girl Child, focused this year on the need to educate girls.
The Rev. Richard Ryscavage S.J., director of Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life which is spearheading “Impact India 2021” — a study that seeks to better understand the cultural and economic determinants that lead to fewer girl births than boy births in India — applauded the observance of "Day," which was established to “recognize girls' rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world," according to the U.N.’s web site.
There is overwhelming evidence that when you educate girls, especially at the secondary level, you can inherently transform societies, Fr. Ryscavage explained.
Fr. Ryscavage said that the unique Fairfield endeavor, “Impact India 2021,” supports this U.N. cause by aiming to elevate the status of women and girls in India, and holds great promise to addressing the challenges related to women’s issues in Indian society.
Recently, there has been a spotlight on the grave inequities girls suffer in some corners of the globe. Last month in Yemen, where marrying girl children is legal, it was reported that an 8-year-old girl died as a result of injuries she suffered during her wedding night. In 2012 in Pakistan, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai for seeking an education. She recovered, and in a powerful address before the U.N., she called upon the global community to support “the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world.”
Fr. Ryscavage, who was executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services Office, explains below how Fairfield is trying to make a difference for women and girls:
“Opening the doors to education for girls is a moral imperative that we must embrace,” said Fr. Ryscavage, professor of sociology and international studies at Fairfield. “We must also be prepared to do the time-consuming and sensitive groundwork in those communities where there is resistance to change, so that these communities will be prepared to welcome what educated girls and women have to offer.
“At Fairfield University, under the direction of Professor Gita Rajan, the Center for Faith and Public Life is engaged in an ongoing body of research in collaboration with Jesuit universities in India in the hope of making an impact on the future of girls in that country,” he continued. “The title of our project, “Impact India 2021,” signals that we have a goal of helping to change attitudes about the value of girls that will be clearly discernible in the next Indian census of 2021.
“Many scholars feel that most of the violence against women in India stems from an undervaluing of women, which has contributed to the current sex ratio imbalance crisis whereby 880 girls are born each year for every 1,000 boys. Many families opt for having a boy rather than a girl because they see girls as lacking economic value to the family,” Fr. Ryscavage said. “As the government of India clearly understands, demographic imbalance of such magnitude will have serious long-term consequences for social stability, levels of violence, work force growth, and economic development.
“It is imperative that we make a distinction between cultural differences and practices that call for our respect and acceptance, and violations of basic human rights that no appeal to cultural exception should be allowed to justify,” Fr. Ryscavage said. “These may be sensitive distinctions, but we must not be afraid to draw them when they are warranted. Protecting the human dignity of girls and helping them reach their full human potential is one of those distinctions. Educated girls can become powerful economic engines within their communities and contribute much to the good of society. We must foster a climate in which girls are perceived as valuable in their own right, and deserving of respect if we want to change the attitudes that perpetuate these injustices.”
A second phase of the project is in the planning stages. In it, Fairfield will partner with 8 academic partners in India to survey 24,000 new families from around the country.