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Old Monday, March 23, 2015
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Default Women and education: Yet another divide?

March 21, 2015 BY Hira Mirza
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.
“All men are created equal; some work harder in preseason.”
Emmitt Smith
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