ONE of the worst blows the state has inflicted on the citizens of Pakistan is to deny education to a huge chunk of them. For girls this has been a double blow. They have suffered on two counts. First, the state’s apathy has resulted in the non-availability of accessible, affordable and quality education for all. Secondly, girls have also suffered because of society’s gender prejudices that have made education out of reach for many girls.
The statistics available confirm this state of affairs. According to NEMIS 2015-16 net enrolment two years ago was 18.751 million (77%) for the age group 5 – 9. Out of this, 56% were boys and 44% were girls.
The state played its part in driving away the girl child from education by building fewer schools for her. Of the 121,600 primary schools in the public sector only 44,000 were for girls as against 77,600 for boys. Another subtle way of keeping girls away was not to provide toilets in 32% of the schools. As a result, I was told by the mothers in a village in Sindh, the girls came home whenever there was a call from nature. They never went back to school that day. With many girls’ schools being located in a neighbouring village, girls didn’t venture that far for security reasons.
What is shocking is the official approach to the gender disparity issue. The National Education Policy 2017-2025 that was released in May this year does not even mention it as a challenge that has to be given special attention. The only recognition of the existence of the gender disparity problem is found in the different targets set for the universalisation of primary education for boys and girls. This goal is to be met in 2020 for boys while for girls the target date is 2025. Even this may not be met if special measures are not taken to give female enrolment a special boost.
With misogyny on the rise, women have a tough battle to fight. Even today I hear men saying, “What is the use of educating girls? They will be married off soon and their education will go waste.” Others want to educate girls to enhance their value in the marriage market. Both are a negative approach.
The empowerment of women and the recognition of their equality with men calls for society and the state to treat women’s rights as human rights and provide them the same opportunities and facilities as men.
This means that public awareness must be created about the role of women. This process depends a lot on education. Enlightened teachers, textbooks free of gender biases and a system that treats men and women uniformly as equal members of society are essential to change the mindset of people. Children must be exposed to this approach early in life if things have to change.
That is why education is so important. One cannot overlook the fact that an educated girl offers many advantages. She is not just an asset to the family as a mother and a homemaker. She also integrates into society as a productive and useful member.
The new education policy speaks of boys and girls without showing any recognition of the gender issue. Neither does it promise what many of us who stand for women’s rights expect of our education policy makers. The tone of the policy document leans heavily towards boys. As an example I quote from the section on boy scouts and girl guides as extra-curricular activities.
The mission of the boy scouts is described as “To contribute to the education of youth through a value system based on Scout Promise and Law for their character building to make them responsible members of society.”
And what is the mission of the Girl Guides? “To provide opportunities for the development of girls and young women, so that they become confident, patriotic and law abiding citizens capable of performing their duties in the home, as well as community and country.”
Shouldn’t boys also be given duties in the home?
In any case the education policy deliberately or inadvertently omits a reference to what its plans are in respect of textbooks, about which I wrote in my last Taleem Do! Column. The policy document speaks again and again about “quality textbooks” without actually elucidating what they will be. There is repeated mention of Islamic ideology and how it has not been properly implemented in previous programmes. If anything that is a clear indicator of things to come.
With the policy formation mechanism having bypassed the provincial autonomy promised by the Eighteenth Amendment and using the Interprovincial Education Ministers Conference, Islamabad has ensured the upper hand for the Islamist ideologues in the Federal Education Ministry. What should be pointed out is that of the 24 writers and reviewers of the policy only three were women. The feminists and nists have been caught napping.