This month much of the world goes back to school. It reminds us that education is vital for girls’ development as citizens – ultimately providing a sound basis for liberating women, and giving them an equal footing in their careers.

Progress starts at home

We should remember, however, that any and all progress starts in the home. It starts with the parents. Their approach to raising their daughters will be of paramount importance to girls’ education and, by extension, gender equality.

Mothers and fathers, in particular, need to educate their daughters, encourage them to learn, and motivate them to enter the workforce just as much as their sons. Without this vital impetus from the home, we will never see real sustained progress.

My own father, Srichand P. Hinduja (well-known as SP), had a zeal for education; he instilled in me a passion for learning, which has translated into success in my working life. But for countless other daughters, discriminatory, socioeconomic, cultural or security pressures still present high obstacles to an education. It may be difficult to overcome the pull of tradition, which confines a father to keeping his daughter at home, while her brother goes out to study and get a job.

We girls can’t live like this. We are a community of people: we need equality and balance on this planet.


A real need for improvements

This is serious, for several reasons. First, education of girls is a crucial factor in improving standards of health across generations. Indeed, it is no surprise that the focus placed on education by my father – and his father before him (Parmanand D. Hinduja), and my pioneering great-grandmother (Paunchbai D. Hinduja) – has directly translated into the work of the Hinduja Foundation, which focuses on improving education, health, and welfare among the world’s underprivileged. My sister, Vinoo Hinduja, who spearheads healthcare on behalf of my father, is especially well-versed in this: she understands more than most in my family that healthcare, along with education, is logically a human right. She has based her life on this.

Second is economic: the education of women is a proven method of lifting populations out of poverty. By helping to equalise opportunities for work, it allows families to diversify and stabilise their sources of income – in turn helping to accelerate broader human and economic development.

There is a certain irony, here, of course: the father who keeps his daughter at home and out of the classroom has not only failed in allowing her the chance to make her own future and provide for herself financially, but he has also tied her future upkeep to either himself or her husband, let alone, in India for instance, the payment of a dowry! (The dowry system is not needed any more – and yet men and fathers still advocate for it in certain countries. Fathers need, in fact, to spend their money on their daughters’ education rather than on planning a marriage to an unknown man from the day they are born. Girls need to stand up to it.)

That we see such a travesty continue to play out, from Africa to India, shows us that we need to educate the men as much as the women. We need to let them know that their girls are willing and able to share the family’s financial and employment burdens – that their daughters want to stand their ground and make their own future. Clearly, upholding the right to education is intrinsically linked to the principle of gender equality.


We’ve come far

The world is trying to address this. Under Goal Number 4 of its “Sustainable Development Goals”, the United Nations officially seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. As one of those encouraged to participate in the discussions that led to the Goals’ development, it is immensely heartening to see that they are now gaining traction in the media.

The Goal remains a tough ask, however. How do we achieve it? I would argue again: teach the adults the value of educating their children. Look at the Netherlands. It took until as recently as 1984 for the country to give mothers full legal equality with fathers when it came to decisions on their children’s education – but now, it is ranked number 1 in the world for women’s educational attainment.

Other countries should follow the Netherlands’ example. That means in India, for instance, Prime Minister Modi needs to inspire such change.


We need a change of mindset

Education is a fundamental human right. My grandfather stressed this point; thanks to my parents, my upbringing was built on it; and I live with the principle too. But from here in Europe and the first world, it may sometimes be easy to forget that for many girls access to a classroom is still, in practice, a privilege. In total, some 15 million girls are not in primary school, compared to 10 million boys.

We need to change this. We need the privileged nations of the world to reach out directly to those where education of women is still lacking and help drive change. We need to educate fathers on the benefits of educating their wives and daughters.

Thanks to my father, my upbringing taught me to take the responsibility to learn and to work from a very young age. It made me understand why we need to teach the fathers of the world to enhance their daughters’ freedom – to allow them to feed their minds and learn to be their own, independent selves.

We need the clarity of thought to realise that this works. We girls have the potential to live a better life. Our endeavour should be to further our education – not merely to please those who would hinder our success.

Slowly but surely, gender gaps in education may be closing. We are on our way. But we must remember that the journey to full gender equality in education begins at home. I have tried, in my own way, to help the education of girls worldwide. But more fathers should encourage their daughters to learn and work. More mothers should, equally, raise girls to want to learn and work. It is a duty of both parents to find this balance, which will uplift our daily lives. Girls, let’s achieve this mission.

That is my understanding of the situation – I’d be interested to learn others’ perspectives.