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Women and education: Yet another divide?
By: Hira Mirza
The numbers don’t get better with time

The
Pakistani woman is an artisan and a tradesperson; she’s an economist
and a doctor; she is also a fisherwomen and a craftsperson; she’s a
mentor and a nurturer; a parliamentarian and a cultivator. She’s
brimming with life and capability; but she awaits what justly belongs to
her: the right to a superior life.

Following
the international women’s day on March 8th, much has been said about
the role of women in society and why it is important to work towards
their empowerment and socio-economic development. Pakistan has had its
share of public seminars on women rights, some of them featuring the
best of rhetoric. We also now see a glut of government bills that vouch
for greater participation of women in public affairs, and promise to
guard them against rape, honour killing and moral insecurity. How far
these will go in practice remains to be seen.

At
the risk of being labelled the next-door-feminist, brooding over the
plight of the ill-fated Pakistani woman, I am rooting for women rights:
not in the form of grandiose parliamentary speeches or ill-framed laws,
but merely by expounding the argument for girls’ education. In a country
where men squirm away at the sight of women leaders and
decision-makers, is it too much to ask for equal (if not complete)
enrolment of girls in schools?

They say, “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation”.

The
importance of education for women is hardly overstated: women raise
children, and educated women raise nations with improved human capital,
high economic growth and enhanced productivity. Disempowerment of women
due to inadequate health, lack of education and insecure environments
compromises the value of their life, and stifles their social and
economic development.

 

Pakistan
has the third highest number of out-of-school female students in the
world: 55 percent of out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls

 

However,
it should come as no surprise that Pakistan is listed as one of the
countries that have large gender gaps in education, and therefore
requires hefty investments in girls’ education for a socio-economic
uplift. A brief look at statistics helps us gauge the magnitude of the
challenge facing the country’s education sector. Two areas have a
consistent poor performance: rural areas and women segments.

National
data point to daunting gender discrepancies in the country. Many gaps
in education delivery factor into the gender divide, but the fact
remains: the adult literacy rate is highly skewed towards males (only 45
percent females are literate compared to a male adult literacy rate of
69 percent). Targets under Millennium Development Goal 2 (MDG2) included
an overall literacy rate of 88 percent and 100 percent enrolment in
primary education, along with elimination of gender inequality in
primary and secondary education by 2015.

The situation in 2015, however, is quite the contrary.

More
girls than boys in Pakistan have been deprived of basic education since
decades. Pakistan has the third highest number of out-of-school female
students in the world: 55 percent of out-of-school children in Pakistan
are girls, while current female net enrolment rate at primary level is
64 percent compared with 72 percent for male counterparts. Moreover, the
percentage of male population that has attended school is higher than
that of females. Only 47 percent Pakistani women have seen the inside of
a classroom, and in 2013, 64 percent of the female population in rural
areas had never been to school. Similarly, boys in both primary and
secondary schools have a greater chance of completing their education.
Of those who enrol in primary schools, only 52 percent girls are able to
complete.

By 2030, the new
Sustainable Development Goals list free and equitable primary and
secondary education for all girls and boys as one of the foremost
objectives. Are we ready to part of this agenda? To eliminate gender
disparities for good and ensure equal leaning opportunities for girls
and boys? No one knows.

The fact
that we are a country with the highest number of terrorist attacks on
educational institutions is the first intimation of trouble. There have
been 724 attacks since 1970 and most of them were intended to disrupt
girls’ education. Pakistan is bereft of a graceful mention in world
rankings:

The Global Gender Gap Report
2014, published by the World Economic Forum, ranks Pakistan 141st out
of 142 countries in terms of the gap between men and women in four key
areas: economic participation, educational attainment, health and
political empowerment. In its previous report, Pakistan was ranked 135th
out of 136 countries, leaving only Yemen behind in gender disparity.

 

UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index for
Pakistan is 0.5, which ranks it 127th out of 187 countries. Only 19
percent of females in Pakistan above the age of 25 have reached (but not
necessarily completed) secondary education

 

For
educational attainment, the country is placed 132nd in the education
gender gap, the poorest in the region. By contrast, South Asian
countries have performed better: Sri Lanka 59th, Bangladesh 111th, Nepal
122nd and India 126th.

UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index
for Pakistan is 0.5, which ranks it 127th out of 187 countries. Only 19
percent of females in Pakistan above the age of 25 have reached (but
not necessarily completed) secondary education, compared with 46 percent
counterpart males. With a new round of political gambits this women’s
day, are we hoping to set the record straight or will roadblocks
continue to thwart the process of reform?

This
is not to say that moving up the statistics ladder will make Pakistan a
women-friendly place. Nor will an overhaul of legislation bring about
appreciable social change. But these gloomy numbers are reminiscent of
the harrowing display of misplaced priorities at national level. The
data only strengthen our resolve as activists and show us when and how
urgently to begin.

Ambitious
national education objectives are listed down each year but the real
need of the hour is strong political will and a cohesive national plan
for effective implementation and evaluation of policies. Evidence shows
that both demand and supply side gaps exist in the education sector. And
while our social preferences about girls’ education will take some time
to mend, national initiatives should be made exhaustive.

Enrolment
drives must ensure equal admission of girls and boys, especially in
rural areas. In some areas voucher schemes, cash transfer and stipend
programmes for schoolgirls in various areas have proven to increase
enrolment (such as the Girls Stipend Programme run by the elementary and
secondary education department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). However, their
impact is limited, and more funds and resources need to be devoted to
education activities in order to ensure gender parity.

Putting
girls into schools is only half the battle won. And if we are to tap
more than half the talent base of the country, we have to leapfrog
directly to a gender-inclusive approach. With marked representation in
the workforce, and improved chances of participation in the economic and
political decision-making scenario, educated women can bring a new wave
of growth.

Let’s bring our flowery
speeches to life and hold up our resolution to combat one of the biggest
dimensions of inequality facing us today.

Source: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2015/03/21/comment/women-and-education-yet-another-divide/

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.