From the dawn of independence to the dusk of controversial Islamization, and then to the terrifying dark nights of 2016, which entail nothing but confusion, Pakistan has paid almost no attention to girls’ education. Female education has been like an orphan child in our society due to the hypocritical nature of our existential ideas and the misleading interpretations of sacred texts. We the people are quite nihilistic in our approach. Our apparent or ostensibly sturdy but in reality pseudo connections with religious traditions do not make provision for its public demonstration. Otherwise, we now live in a society where we follow no guidelines and the actions are driven by the impetus of momentary needs. In fact, our people, in reality, believe in nothing, have no loyalty and no purpose other than an impulse to destroy; that is why we are rapidly moving toward a more radical, a fundamentally immature and an extremist society.
To understand the condition of women in a society, it is important to examine their status within the domain of the family as well as within the larger cultural and sociopolitical context, which structures their opportunities and defines their capacity for action. History of the Indian Subcontinent is characterized by conflict between the ideas, ideologies and actions where courses of actions were determined by the needs of survival. Since the Vedic times people have been using their, changed or unchanged, sacred texts to justify their actions. Even history and its analysis have been used as a tool to keep women and other low-castes restricted to their so-called preordained positions. Domesticity has been used as an eco-friendly phenomenon for women’s by the prevalent patriarchal mindset. The narrative of females’ work of food-gathering in the history has been utilized to make them more submissive and domestic. Their roles in the history as peacemaker, conflict-resolver, artiste (with high sense of aesthetics), birth-giver, village-settler and society-maker have never been considered as the qualities of great importance. ‘Changing needs for changing times’ is the notion that we need to understand as a society. I think it’s the right time to change the flawed narratives of the past and to accept the importance of women in society.
No economic progress is possible without female education, as it requires trained human resources. We cannot progress economically, socially and spiritually unless we involve females in these domains. Gender equality is the key to all kinds of progress. In 2013, Pakistan was ranked 135th out of 136 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index Report of the World Economic Forum. In 2014, eight more countries were included in the Report, but Pakistan still was at the second last position—141th out of 142 countries. It is important to note that Pakistan was ranked at 112th place in 2006, the first year of the Report, and since then, its position has been continuously deteriorating, and women have been sidelined in mainstream economic activities.
If we compare the situation in Pakistan with that in the neighbouring countries, we find that their progress rate is quite steady and the secret to it lies in equity and equal participation of females. The secret of Sri Lanka’s development in terms of education is the promotion of female education. Developed countries’ educational policies focus on gender equality. Therefore, in order to bring about gender equality, it is essential to provide equal opportunities to both men and women in education and to make female empowered equally to men in decision-making in every sphere of life. It is indispensable to educate women in a male-dominated society, which today’s Pakistan is, because “educating girls delivers a high return than other investment in the developing world,” as the World Bank reports. Gender equality and empowerment of women are key tools to combating poverty, hunger, and disease, as well as to stimulate truly sustainable development.
At present, women in Pakistan are facing a myriad of problems; poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, discrimination and lack of participation in decision-making being the most prominent among them. Global Monitoring Report shows that there are about 8 girls in school for every 10 boys at the primary level, and even fewer at the secondary level. Dirty politics, feudalistic hegemony, misuse of religion and deteriorating law and order situation are the primary reasons behind the deplorable neglect of female education in Pakistan. Various studies have identified poverty, cultural norms that restrict freedom of movement of girls and women, gender-based division of labour, ghost schools, shortage of educational institutions as well as of female teachers, low budgetary allocations and scant funding for education as main impediments to progress and development of female education in the country.
Studies also recommend that Pakistan needs to develop effective gender strategies which should include an advocacy campaign, curriculum and textbook guidelines, mechanism of capacity-building of teachers/educators, curriculum developers and textbook writers, and a robust policy for implementation of these. Without a generous budget, curriculum improvement and the availability of primary schools, it is impossible to achieve universal primary education. Sufficient number of schools with quality education for both boys and girls is inevitable for ensuring equality in access to education. We will have to change our approach toward female education. Instead of stopping girls from going outside, we need to teach our boys to behave well. In Pakistan, girls are often not permitted to attend school unless they have a female teacher. We have only 47% female teachers in primary education—majority of educators are male. Ensuring gender parity in the teaching staff is, therefore, very important. Moreover, educational institutions should also be made safe and secure to female students and teachers.
We need to acknowledge first that the lack of awareness regarding development and gender equality does exist in our society which has a history of patriarchy, class system and misuse of power. However, any efforts on development, no matter howsoever conceived, cannot succeed without equal participation of women. We cannot promote economic and social development unless the cultural, historical, political and social issues of gender discrimination are resolved.
Awareness campaigns should be launched on a large scale in order to educate the masses on equality of gender as well as of rights. We must clearly focus on gender equality. It is time to transition, from homes to schools.