There may not be many countries in the world like Pakistan where such stark discrepancies are found in female education and literacy. The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), which has recently been merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and Balochistan have the lowest female literacy rates – 13.6 and 29.9%, respectively; while Islamabad and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) have the highest, 92.9 and 82.8%, respectively.
The National Human Development Report (NHDR), released in the third week of May 2018, observed severe disparities in literacy levels across different segments in Pakistan between more and less developed regions, male-female, and urban-rural.
The comprehensive survey, conducted under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), discovered that disparities existed between rural and urban areas. The literacy rate for 10 years of age and above is 25 percentage points lower in rural areas compared to urban areas. The relatively higher illiteracy rates for vulnerable categories such as women and rural dwellers indicate the intense deprivation of education.
The report says that overlapping dimensions of inequality along with income, location, and gender had reinforced the education disadvantage for country’s mushrooming youth population, consisting of 51% females. Regional differences within the country, whether between provinces or between rural and urban areas, strongly affect access to education and primary school completion rates.
Baela Raza Jamil an educationist and advisor for Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Centre for Education and Consciousness (CEC), believes the issue must be given top priority by every elected government. Talking to Cutting Edge, she says disparity is not only limited to gender in the country. Almost twice as many children from Balochistan, 47%, never attended a school, compared to children in Punjab i.e. 24%. Similar disparity is visible between rural and urban areas as 37 and 19%, respectively, she says while referring to findings of the report.
Ms. Jamil believes that income, gender and disability further reinforce the inequalities in access to education for the youth. Despite a wide range of policies, a quota system, special funding schemes and scholarship programmes aimed at making education more inclusive and increasing access to under-privileged groups, the enrolments present smaller percentages from the lower social strata. These quotas and scholarships are awarded only to children with influential backgrounds, she adds.
She believes that wealth inequality plays an important role in keeping individuals in and out of school. As Malik and Rose (2015) note, “gender inequities exacerbate wealth inequities at least in rural communities, where among poor children, 74% of girls have never been to school compared to 55% of boys. However, there is no gender gap among urban children from wealthy families.”
Further quoting from findings of the research study, she says that overlapping geographical, wealth-related, and gender inequalities increase when children enter school – only 15% of poor rural girls complete primary school, compared to 40% of their male counterparts.
While referring to findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2015, Baela Raza tells Cutting Edge that girls from poor families are 20% more likely to remain out of school than their male counterparts.
Venita Christopher, an online writer and researcher, believes that Pakistan’s development mainly depends on increasing the female literacy rate. “Therefore, the government should make it rule of the state that every girl, whether in village or city or any area of Pakistan, should go to school or college and they would get a stipend for it monthly along with books and uniform. This will create competition among society and youth and force all males to get better education,” she suggests in one of her blogs.
Venita Christopher lists a number of happenings of 2017, which could bring about good news for female education in the country:-
1). On March 23, 2017, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and the Korean Ambassador to UNESCO Lee Byong-hyun signed an agreement to support national capacity building to make girls’ right to education a reality in Bahawalpur and Muzaffargarh districts in South Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan. This $3.4 million project between UNESCO’s Girls’ Right to Education Programme in Pakistan and the Korean International Cooperation Agency aims to bring quality education in the remote regions of Pakistan.
2.) The youngest Nobel laureate visited her hometown Swat Valley in Pakistan on March 31, 2018, not simply to relive the memories of growing up in her house but also to present her hometown with the gift of quality education. She opened a state-of-the-art school using The Malala Fund and her Nobel Prize money. In just a few years, Malala Fund has invested $6 million in our work for girls’ education in Pakistan, from opening the first secondary school for girls in Shangla to supporting Gulmakai Champions across the country.”
Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, currently working for the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of the Punjab, welcomes Venita Christopher’s optimism. But he has a different viewpoint of female literacy in the country. He says that many of Pakistan’s problems arise due to a lack of education among girls: from early marriages leading to overpopulation to an increase in crime rates. Strict laws need to be enforced for increasing female literacy if we are to ever overcome this crisis, he tells Cutting Edge.
He suggests setting up more government schools not only in main cities but in every corner of the country so that no one is deprived of an opportunity to get education for lack of a school. He says that a government plan for a separate women’s university and women’s medical college in Multan did not materialise despite the PML-N government’s five years. In Pakistan, there are about 19.5 million children of primary age group, out of which 6.8 million are out of school and 60% of them are females, he adds.
Prof. Obaidullah says that overpopulation also forces families to neglect their daughters’ education as they prefer spending their savings on education of their sons. In many parts of the country, when a girl goes to a university to further her studies, it is seen as an un-Islamic act by a great many families, as they have to study alongside male students there. The only classes they are allowed to take are sewing, cooking and how to observe pardah by most families with religious backgrounds, regrets the educationist.
He says that we could not expect any major change in women’s literacy overnight, especially in the face of bitter realities. The Pakistan Economic Survey, 2017-2018, shows that gross primary enrolment for males was 94% and 78% for females during the year. While Pakistan’s overall literacy rate remained static at 58%, female literacy rate was recorded at only 48%. Therefore, adds Prof. Obaidullah, we should not harbour any illusion that any outside force, foreign governments or individuals, can make our women literate. It’s only we, especially those at the helm of policymaking, who could change our destiny by educating our girls.