Gender inequality in education
Sep 10: THE ILO's finding that the illiteracy rate among adult Pakistani women is over 25
percentage points higher than that of the adult male population is not really
surprising. Statistics show that gender inequality in Pakistan is a given fact -
be it in health, education, employment or any other area of national life.
Unfortunately, this has been known for a long time, but no concerted efforts
have been made to address this concern. Primarily because ours is a patriarchal
society, there is an ingrained perception of women being naturally inferior in
status to men. To be sure, gender-sensitive policies are officially claimed to
be the guiding principle - they are enshrined in the millennium development
goals which the government has signed. But moves to enhance women's reproductive
health facilities, ensure their political empowerment in the assemblies, and to
increase the enrolment of girls in schools do not go far enough. They have
helped only in a small way to decrease the socio-economic gap between the two
As long as women and girls are not accepted as individuals in
their own right, and are seen merely as wives, mothers and daughters, and as
long as laws and traditions continue to discriminate against them, there is
little chance of their catching up with the men. It is this non-acceptance of
women as equal beings that has permeated all walks of life, as in the case of
education. However, in this sector, things could be looking up slightly for the
female population, not so much because there is greater awareness of its right
to be part of the mainstream as the need to harness its economic potential that
can be augmented by proper schooling. For instance, parents in many rural areas
today are no longer averse to sending their daughters to school. Many years ago
this would have been unthinkable for cultural constraints. Now that attitudes
are changing, it is a pity that the government has not capitalised on that.
Quite often girls are not being educated due to the inaccessibility of schools.
Which parent would want to send their daughter to a remote school exposing her
to the dangers that lurk in the way? In other cases, poor toilet facilities at
school keep the girls from attending.
Unfortunately, these drawbacks have
not led parents to demand strongly enough that better educational facilities
nearer their homes be provided to their children. This betrays a general lack of
awareness of education being the basic right of every child. Moreover, despite
the growing realisation of the obvious advantages of education, pockets of deep
conservatism still exist around the country, more specifically in the NWFP and
Balochistan. In the latter case, the stronghold of the feudal system, with all
its attendant evils, has made education a pipedream - especially so for women.
In this province, the literacy rate of the female population is a mere 19 per
cent, much below the national average. It is keeping this picture in mind that
the government must set about improving educational facilities for girls.
However, such an action would only be cosmetic unless accompanied by a strong
effort to change existing mindsets that currently see women as unequal to