In 2008 general election, there were at least 20 polling stations in Balochistan, where not a single woman cast her vote, according to statistics obtained from the Gender Election Monitoring Mission report.
Again in the 2013 general election, only four out of every 10 women eligible to vote were registered. That does not appear to have changed in 2018. This is partly because they do not hold an identity card – thus, they do not legally exist, believes Mariyam Suleman, a Gwadar resident who secured a Masters degree in Sociology from Karachi University.
Though, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has made it mandatory for 10% of votes in each constituency to be cast by women, it is unlikely to make any difference, Ms. Suleman tells Cutting Edge at a seminar held at Sociology Department of Karachi University recently. “The reason is simple: they don’t even exist in Balochistan according to the official statistics,” she adds.
Further, Balochistan offers various other startling facts as far as women issues and their rights are concerned. Nearly six out of every 10 young girls are married before the age of 20, meaning Balochistan has the highest percentage of child brides out of all the provinces of Pakistan. These statistics, combined with the lack of healthcare facilities for women, ensure that Balochistan’s maternal mortality rate is the highest in the country at 785 deaths per 100,000.
Regrettably, only 18% of women in Balochistan are literate, according to the Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement Survey, a number unchanged in decades. Also, over 75% of women have never been to school. Proportion-wise, this is the largest population of illiterate women in the country.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its National Human Development Report (NHDR), issued recently, stated that women’s literacy levels observed stark discrepancies in the country. According to the report, youth literacy varies from 94.5% in Islamabad to 39.9% in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, while FATA and Balochistan have the lowest female youth literacy rates, 13.6 and 29.9%, respectively. According to the 2017 Economic Survey of Pakistan, women’s literacy rate is at 48%, whereas male literacy rate stands at 70%, which is representative of alarming conditions for female education in Pakistan.
Nadil Shah, an M.Phil scholar at the Department of Sociology, University of Karachi, says the condition of female education is abysmal in Balochistan. In a talk with Cutting Edge at a seminar, he lists many factors which are contributing to woman’s illiteracy in the province. These factors include discriminatory laws and educational policies, poverty, lack of educational facilities and institutions, negligence of the government, less expenditure on female education, societal norms and values. These factors greatly contribute to high female illiteracy rate, and low gross enrolment rates, and net enrolment rates in the province, he believes.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017 report says that the total literacy rate in Balochistan is 41%, but female literacy rate stands at 24%, while the male literacy is 56%, which indicates the deplorable condition of female education in the province.
Nadil Shah terms Balochistan the worst province in terms of female education in the country. A large number of people in Balochistan believe that women are the honour of the family, and if they go out of their house to get an education, they may endanger the reputation of their families.
The survey results show a huge gender disparity in terms of rural and urban areas. Most of the people, about 80% of total population in Balochistan, are living in rural areas. The rural literacy rate for men is 48% and for women, it is only 15%.
Nadil Shah regrets that with the passage of time, women literacy rate in the province has decreased. It was 17% in 2013-14, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan report, and it decreased by two per cent in the last five years. Poverty and remotely located educational institutions are the major issues due to which women are deprived of an education in rural areas, the researcher believes.
In spite of its vast geographical area, there is variance in terms of gross enrolment rate in Balochistan on the basis of gender. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the gross enrolment rate for males is 75% and for females is 42%. It is very disheartening to note that the female gross enrolment rate (GER) was better in 2013-14, which was 49% in the province. But in the last five years, it dropped by a whopping seven per cent, which should be a matter of concern for provincial and federal governments, says Mr. Shah.
In addition to the GER difference, According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017, the percentage of females’ net enrolment rate (NER) is very low in Balochistan. The total net enrolment rate is 33%: 38% for males and 26% for females. Again, it is regrettable that the female NER has decreased in the last five years. It was 30% in 2013-14, and in 2017, it stood at 26%.
The scholars hailing from Balochistan believe that access to public schooling remains dependent on family incomes, geographical location and gender. Most children drop out by the age of nine; and girls from poor communities are least likely to attend school.
Naazir Mahmood, who has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as a teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator, has yet another reason to share with Cutting Edge for low literacy rate among the Baloch women.
Quoting from the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 statistics, he tells Cutting Edge that one of the root causes of the gender disparity in education, especially at school level, is a lack of functional and secure toilet facility at schools. Especially in rural areas, most government schools have one small cubicle without a door. If there is a door, it is in most cases broken or without a bolt or latch. If the door is in place, there is no running water; sometimes a bucket of water is placed in the morning, which runs out quickly because the bucket is leaking. In the absence of water, the toilet soon gets clogged and becomes dysfunctional, he says.
“It may sound nauseating to some people, but this is the ground reality most politicians prefer to ignore,” the educationist says. “Even the head teacher ignores it because he or she does have a functional toilet. You can’t expect a female student to go home a couple of kilometres away, just to answer the call of nature. No matter how trivial it may sound to be included in a party manifesto, it is a need that affects millions of girls across the country, especially in Balochistan. “And if we want to eliminate or reduce gender disparity in school education, it should get a prominent mention in manifestoes,” suggest Naazir Mahmood.
In the 2018 general election, a newly formed political party, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), managed to bag the majority of seats in the Balochistan provincial assembly. Jam Kamal Khan of the party has been elected as the new chief minister of Balochistan. It is hoped that that the party, a major partner in the coalition government along with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, will convert its theoretical claims into practice, and make sure female enrolment in schools is made mandatory across the province. It is also hoped that the provincial government takes special measures to close the gender disparity in the education sector and brings the literacy rate, especially among women, on a par with other provinces of the country.