“There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free, and educated woman.”
Women education is the cardinal pillars that can strengthen generations.
In Pakistan, multifarious socio-cultural, economic reasons and gender prejudices are the obstacles that hold them avail educational opportunities same as men.
Mothers are considered the first learning institution of children, but unfortunately in Pakistan, majority of mothers are incapable of developing their children productively due to illiteracy, poor health, and lack of recognition of social and legal rights.
Some steps are taken to eliminate gender disparity along with suggesting recommendations to upgrade female education, especially in rural areas.
If gender disparity in education is eliminated, it cannot only elevate literacy rate but can also empower society by everyone’s equal and productive contribution.
Women Education is the path to navigate remarkable change. It has to potential to make females able to take decisions, enhance their confidence (Batool, Rehman, & Ashagar, 2020), raise their status in the family, society along with awareness about their rights, boost self-esteem, increase self-efficacy (Noureen & Awan, 2011), reduce their dependency, better upbringing of children, and open career opportunities (Malik & Courtney, 2011).
In Pakistan, 68% of girls (15-23 years) are literate as compared to 83% of boys of the same age (Global Education Monitoring Report, 2016).
According to UNICEF (2007), there has been a prominent decrease in domestic violence, infant mortality rate, vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, early marriage along with an increase in spacing between births, and higher rates of immunization of children.
Promoting girls’ education has resulted in stimulating social stability via developing tolerance, gender equality and mutual respect (Millennium Project, 2005).
Provision of free textbooks and free of cost primary education has helped increase girls enrollment in schools (Latif, 2009).
Promoting gender equality is among MDGs and SDGs that shows the importance to empower women (ASER, 2015).
Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagaahi has planned to achieve 4th SDG (Gender Equality) that ensures the provision of 12 years of education that will lead to economic growth, increase wages and fewer children after marriage (Global Education Monitoring Report, 2016).
There are numbers of organizations working for this purpose such as PAGE, Hoshyar Foundation, Girls Education International, Global Living, UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education and many others that aim to provide educational opportunities for girls living in underprivileged areas, to practically implement Article 25-A “Right to Education” of the constitution and to bridge the gender gap by establishing girls-friendly schools and community.
Among major obstacles in women’s education are chronic poverty, early marriages, (Ahmad, Said, Hussain, & Khan, 2014) domestic labor, negative societal attitudes(Mehdi, 2009), limited access to higher education, misinterpretation of Islamic teachings (Yasmin, 2009), high cost of education(Parveen, 2008), lack of investment on education, patriarchal gender norms, rigid customs and traditions (Noureen & Awan, 2011).
Man is prioritized because he is the breadwinner and parents’ old-age security and woman is made to perform domestic chores.
Girl’s birth is perceived as a financial liability in some families and is considered a negative sign whereas boy’s birth is celebrated.
Even in the textbook, boys are illustrated as powerful and strong whereas girls as passive and timid that portray male dominant society (Ahmad, Said, Hussain, & Khan, 2014).
Hence, such powerful stereotypical beliefs and practices are internalized by the girls that pull them away from utilizing educational opportunities.
Moreover, the poverty-stricken families choose among their children they pick males due to the cultural and social rationale that are attached as male-only breadwinner and old-age security(Roby & Lambert, 2008).
Especially in rural areas, people get convinced by false religious perceptions and influenced by illiterate Mullah (clergymen), politicians and feudal lords who exploit females’ rights (Lall, 2009).
Due to these contextual challenges, Pakistan enjoys the lowest rank in terms of female literacy rate in the region.
There are various recommendations to tackle the contextual issues.
To provide females safety, schools need to develop and follow a security plan considering girls’ concerns including sexual harassment.
To increase enrollment, new secondary and higher-level schools for girls should be developed in rural areas and female teachers should be recruited and trained (Memon, 2007) that can strengthen parent-teacher associations to increase parents’ satisfaction.
To reduce financial constraints, government or community members should provide merit and need-based scholarships for girls.
With this, the government can invest more in education and abolish tuition and exam fees to lessen the financial burden.
Free or affordable transport facility should be provided for girls who travel long distances to reach school along with school supplies, uniforms, bags, shoes, and textbooks.
There is a need to develop a plan for monitoring actions that may result in immodesty, immorality and social disruption.
To respond to religious misconceptions, Latif (2009) emphasizes that Islam doesn’t discriminate between the educational rights of men and women.
The females are marginalized by extremism that’s rooted in the social customs.
Also, the textbooks should be modified to portray positive male and female as role models for children to decrease gender biases in the curriculum.
Along with such practices, religious leaders can be brought to the front line to persuade parents via sermons to send their daughters to schools.
Simultaneously, the media needs to play a positive role in creating awareness about education girls and multiple educational opportunities for females.
In education, women are underrepresented due to various socio-cultural factors but a shift in the provision of educational opportunities for females can bring up such males who consider education an equal right for both men and women and take steps for this purpose.
It doesn’t mean that girls should be more empowered by educating them than males rather it aims to justify the importance of equality in the provision of education to males as well as females.
In this way, it can lead to making a valuable and substantial difference in the world.
Educated women can mould the thoughts and characters of the nation that is demonstrated by one the famous sayings,
‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’
Neha Suleman is pursuing her Bachelors in Education at Institute of Administration Sukkur, Pakistan. She is passionate to serve community by utilizing her critical and creative thinking. Her writings depict hidden fences and open frontiers of society to educate people about their rights and responsibilities that can lead to sustainable world.