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In India, a young woman follows her heart and breaks barriers
NEW YORK, USA, 30 April 2007 – In a field of buzzing bees a young woman tends to the boxes where they swarm, protecting the honey. She is Anita Khushwaha, the first female beekeeper in the rural Indian village of Bochaha.
Beekeeping is thought to be dangerous work, suitable for men and boys only. Nevertheless, says Anita, “I decided early on that if I was going to do anything, this was it. I’m not afraid of bees. They’re like human beings. If you love them, they will return your love.”
She was determined to make a living despite the odds stacked against her.
Born to a very poor family, Anita learned early in life that education would help her survive. Though her family wanted her to stay at home and tend their goats, she convinced them that going to school was right for her. “My parents were not supportive, but they listened to me eventually,” she says.
‘The queen bee is at the centre’
By tutoring other students, Anita made a small amount of money to pay for school fees. And when her parents thought it was time for her to marry, she was once again determined to continue her education and support herself.
“My parents love me a lot but they were forcing me to marry,” recalls Anita. “When they tried that, I stopped eating food and they changed their decision to get me married off.”
Anita had seen beekeepers working with their boxes, and she wanted to know more. “I came to know that the queen bee is at the centre of beekeeping,” she says, noting that at first she was able to buy only two. Today, she has 125 queen bees and 125 boxes providing enough honey and income to allow her to continue her college education.
Despite a major improvement in literacy rates in India over the past decade, the number of children who are not in school remains high. Gender disparities in education persist, with far more girls than boys failing to complete primary school.
In Bihar State, where Anita lives, the gender gap is wide; only one in six girls is literate.
UNICEF, non-governmental organizations and bilateral aid agencies have partnered with the government to improve literacy levels in Bihar and other states that have the largest numbers of out-of-school children or dropouts. Their efforts focus on girls in marginalized and minority communities, which have the highest levels of illiteracy.
Motivating parents and girls
Anita is among those chosen as ‘Girl Stars’ in a UNICEF-supported project run by the NGO Going to School. The project is producing a series of short films documenting the stories of girls from disadvantaged communities across five northern states – girls who have managed, through education, to make a success of their lives and become self-sufficient.
The ‘Girl Stars’ are from ordinary rural settings with which their peers can identify. The films about them will be used to:
- Motivate parents to ensure that their daughters go to school and do not drop out
- Encourage girls to attend school
- Generate a demand within the community for quality schooling
- Influence policy and mobilize resources for girls’ education.
Having broken through socio-economic barriers with her sweet success as a beekeeper, Anita will soon be a college graduate. After college she plans to become a social worker so that she can give back to her community, where getting an education is not an easy business.