Gender disparity in education sill unaddressed 

A problem that can no longer be neglected

In Pakistan, one can see a wide gender gap in literacy rates of men and women living in both rural and urban areas. People who have settled in cities are comparatively more convinced bout sending their girls to schools and the literacy rate in such areas are comparatively higher than rural areas where parents do not consider it a wise idea to spend money on a girl’s education.

The patriarchal norms governing the society has added much loss to the overall development of the society as opposed to any other factor causing the gender gap in education. It is a widely held belief that men are the breadwinners of a family and support the household and expenses of their children, therefore, it is justified if money is spent on their education.

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Many parents do not send their daughters to school as they believe that a girl belongs to her husband’s house and her only duty is to raise her children and look after her family where education does not play a vital role in aiding her with such duties. Hence, in numerous villages, people do not support the idea of educating a female let alone making her feel enlightened and independent.

“The perceptions that investing in girls’ education does not result in the economic uplift of families deters parents from sending girls to school,” notes Roshaneh Zafar, the founder of Kashf Foundation.

The gender disparity acts as a curse on the coming generation who will be less fortunate in carving growth and development. It must be remembered that education plays a vital role in the progress and prosperity of a nation and it becomes a treasure for the country where it is imparted to women. An educated man can only build himself as an individual but an educated woman can build herself as someone who serves the entire nation by raising an enlightened generation.

“When families violate these norms, they can face extreme pressure and hostility from their community and often discontinue their girls’ education when they hit puberty due to fear of harassment, social stigmas and disapproval,” she adds.

Adding more woes to the lives of women who want to be educated, the brunt of poverty and limited resources available to a family are also contributing in diminishing the opportunities of learning at school. There are a high number of out-of-school children in Pakistan and the situation is worse in some areas as compared to the rest of the country.

Almost 22.5 million children are out of school in which girls’ ratio is mostly higher. It has been reported that 32 percent of primary-school-age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared to 21 percent of boys. In Balochistan alone where the female literacy rate is lowest in the country (in 2014-15), 81 percent of women had not completed primary school, compared to 52 percent of men. Also, 75 percent of women have never been able to attend school at all. In other parts of the country where the literacy rate is much more convincing, gender disparities exist. Considering such limitations, some women are never able to fulfil their dreams that remain buried in their hearts inside the boundaries of their home.

“[Even] women who are already in the labour market… have fewer and less diverse job options,” notes analyst Maryam Akmal.  “These are concentrated in low-pay sectors, sometimes even when women have completed secondary education.”

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The delinquency of the state lays revealed when the gender disparities in education across the country are analyzed. It is true that social constraints do exist and are playing a crucial role in reversing the steps the government takes to promote education of women but there are myriads of areas where the government is lacking in performance and can put more efforts in bringing fruitful results.

For the sake of reference, the government has done nothing about repairing the infrastructure of schools in Khyber Pakhtukhuwa in areas adjoining Balochistan where natural calamities and the Taliban militancy have played havoc with the school buildings and infrastructure. The students in such areas sit under an open sky in informal spaces that generally do not meet the requirements of learning. A survey was conducted under the Malala fund when it was revealed that the government lacks spending into improving schools, stating 16 percent schools in KPK are without electricity, 12 percent have no clean drinking water facility, five percent are without boundary walls, and four percent do not have toilets.

A PML(N) leader and member of provincial assembly, Ikhtiar Wali Khan, said the PTI government did not do enough to bring significant changes in the provincial education system. “The PTI government announced an education emergency in the province but despite the education emergency 70 percent of schools have no basic facilities and there is still no uniform education system all over the province as promised by the government,” Wali explained.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 has ranked Pakistan 153rd among 156 countries as the World Economic Forum report said that the gender gap widened by 0.7 percent to 55.6, which places the country ahead only  of Afghanistan in the region. The dismal state of affairs warrants the immediate change in course of policies to address the widening gender inequality that besets Pakistan.

The gender disparity acts as a curse on the coming generation who will be less fortunate in carving growth and development. It must be remembered that education plays a vital role in the progress and prosperity of a nation and it becomes a treasure for the country where it is imparted to women. An educated man can only build himself as an individual but an educated woman can build herself as someone who serves the entire nation by raising an enlightened generation.

Mehmil Khalid Kunwar
Mehmil Khalid Kunwar
The writer is a polymer engineer with a profound interest in politics. She works on social issues and gender bias. She can be reached on Twitter @mehmilkhalid

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