EducationNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 30-31

A tale of brilliance and barriers

In the recent past, some young Pakistani girl students have been honoured and rewarded for their services in the field of education. Top of the list was the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, Arfa Karim Randhawa (1995-2012), who won laurels for the country at a very young age. Various IT parks, scholarships and medals were named after her.

Another brilliant and extraordinary Pakistani girl is Malala Yousafzai, who is an activist for female education and the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Various educational institutions, including Government Mission School, located near Civil Hospital in Karachi, were named after her. The brave girl had raised her voice against extremism in Swat and gave the message to the world that Pakistanis are peace-loving people.

However, these are only a few examples of a bright picture. Overall, the situation of women’s education in the country is depressing, and the voices for their equal right to education are almost non-existent. The female literacy rate in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world. The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women, which shows a huge gap between rural and urban women, as far literacy is concerned. The school dropout rate among girls is also very high (almost 50%), especially in rural areas.

The main reason for lack of parents’ interest in their daughters’ education lies in the religious and cultural views of the people, and the traditional agrarian economy. Though boys in the rural areas often get a rudimentary, back-to-basics style education, even that is rare for girls, who typically are put to work as young as age 6, cooking, cleaning or working in family fields.

Educationists give various reasons for the low female literacy rate in the country. According to them, the first cause of women’s illiteracy is the increase in the population, which is playing a negative role in female education. A family having more children and less income, mostly prefers educating boys only, while girls learn domestic skills.

Secondly, there is also a misconception that women merely have to manage a home after being married, whereas men have to earn; therefore, education matters only for males, and not for females.

Thirdly, it is mostly observed that traditionally, women are considered as the possession of males of the family. So, the males are responsible for taking decisions about their lives. In most cases, males do not allow their sisters or daughters to go to schools or universities. Additionally, some families do not like their daughters to study in co-education institutions, thus depriving them of higher education.

Fourthly, the social setup is dominated by men. Girls cannot move freely; thus, a male of the family has to take responsibility for her care. This makes it difficult for females to move around. There is also a sharp division between female-oriented work and male-oriented work. Females are not allowed to work in all spheres of life, therefore, their education is not considered important.

According to official figures, only one in three women in rural areas can read, though real figures are far less than that. Overall, education is “a dream” for boys and “unimaginable” for girls, according to a report issued last year by the United Nations.

The UN report said that just around 39% of rural girls attend secondary school in most developing countries including Pakistan. This is far fewer than rural boys (45%), urban girls (59%) and urban boys (60%) among the developing states.

Data from 68 countries indicated that a woman’s education is a key factor in determining a child’s survival, according to the UN statistics. Children of mothers with no education in developing countries are 3.1 times more likely to die than those with mothers who have secondary or tertiary education, and 1.6 more likely to die than those whose mothers have primary-level education, the report said.

The report added that lack of local schools is one reason fewer girls attend high school. A study in Pakistan showed that the distance from school resulted in a 20% reduction in attendance, while studies in Egypt, Indonesia and Africa show that placing schools closer to home results in higher attendance.

As said earlier, people’s religious beliefs and cultural norms prove to be a major hindrance in girls going to educational institutions. A woman researcher quoted a cleric opposing higher education for girls in his Friday prayers sermon. The maulana said that the primary reason why the Muslim world was supposedly headed for rampant decline was because “Muslims have become “beghairats” (people who lack self-esteem) as they send their daughters abroad to acquire education and invite “God’s wrath”. This claim shows the mindset which is opposed to girls’ education. A district programme manager for an organisation working for women empowerment and female education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa told this writer that people are scared of sending their girls to school.

It is a tragedy that even women are not convinced of girls’ education in our society. It is a fact that every barbaric act perpetrated against women is committed with the help of a ‘female accomplice’. Whether it is ‘forbidding’ girls to attend schools or acts of ‘domestic violence’, women assist men in building a society which does not serve as a safe haven for women. Perhaps these acts are motivated by vengeance by women who once put up with being deprived of their basic rights when they were young themselves. Girls are only taught by their mothers to be dutiful wives and daughters.