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January 1, 2016

Educating Pakistani women achieves
economic gain and human development

By Wajid Hassan

Women’s Literacy is often a talking point among politicians, educationalists and service organizations. In 2013, UNESCO reported that there are 50 million illiterate people in Pakistan and two thirds of these are women.

Below are some stats taken from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (ABC NEWS, 2013):

  • In Pakistan, 5.4 million children of primary school age are not in school; 62 percent of them are girls.
  • Seven million adolescents in Pakistan are not in school; 54 percent of them are girls.
  • Sixty-five percent of girls are enrolled in primary school compared with 79 percent of boys.
  • Almost half -- 49 percent -- of girls who begin primary school leave before completing the final grade.
  • Sixty-two percent of girls and 5 percent of boys between the ages of 10 and 12 are not in school.
  • Seventy-one percent of women in Pakistan have not completed primary school, compared with 41 percent of men.
  • In Pakistan, 39 percent of girls are not in school, compared with 30 percent of boys.
  • A boy has a 15 percent greater chance of starting primary school in Pakistan than a girl has.
  • More than half of all adults in Pakistan have received no education. Only 40 percent of adult women can read and write, compared with 69 percent of men.
  • In Pakistan's poorest households, less than half -- 45 percent -- of the girls are enrolled in primary school, and only 18 percent attend lower secondary school.

The safeguarding of women was considered from the early days of the establishment of Pakistan and many women based organizations acted to safeguard the Pakistani women interests. Special seats in the National Assembly were first reserved for women beginning with the 4th National Assembly in 1969. More recently there are 60 reserved seats out of 342 in the National Assembly which presents a 17% fixed representation of women of Pakistan.This inclusion notes the continuous attempt of Islamabad to secure a balanced role for women in politics.

Subsequent Pakistani governments have continued to try and help the cause of women by establishing laws that increase fines for those who are actively involved in underage wedlock and provide stipend programs to families in order that their girl child can attend school instead of work. Underage wedlock is one of the main factors as to why there are not many girls in school. It prevents them from becoming literate as these girls, who are often younger than 16 are forced into a marriage where education is not allowed. Raising the fine from Rs 10 to Rs1000, and other more severe punishments, member of the National Assembly, Marvi Memon by tabling of Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014 hopes to stem these underage marriages.

Provinces on their own have enacted legislation to increase literacy among women and curb injustice against them. For over a decade to the present, the Sindh Province has enacted National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women, Punjab has instituted the Punjab Women Empowerment Package of 2012, Baluchistan has included rural support programs that include Adolescent Family Centers (AFC) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has implemented a National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women. Whether these are implemented, enacted or included to appease international community, Pakistan has willfully established such policies and support for women because it understands the contribution that women can make for the good of Pakistan.

Other more relevant measures were enacted through the following amendments to the constitution of Pakistan. The Right to Education, Pakistan includes them on Legislation, Relevant Articles of the Constitution. They are noted below.

  • Article 25 A: “Right to education.—The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
  • Article 9: “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law.”
  • Article 19-A: “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”
  • Article 37-b: “…remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period.”
  • Article 140A: “Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.”

These amendments, though not including “women” specifically pertain to all of Pakistan receiving free and compulsory education.

Women’s literacy is required as it helps women gather more information and learn about current events by reading newspaper and books, Literacy helps to decrease infant and human mortality rates, it raises the status of a family, makes a woman more eligible for an arranged marriage with a man from a higher class and increases ability to gain higher modes of employment other than being a domestic worker. In Pakistan, employment opportunities are very limited for a woman who is illiterate. If a woman in Pakistan wants to move forward with life or a career, she must be very strong and fight for an education.

Without literacy, a woman is not aware of how to read labels on food items or more gravely still, how to tell if their son or daughter is sick. Teaching this woman how to read and write can change her world and amplify the health and happiness of her family. In December of 2013, Women Thrive presented a report to the United Nations which included an interview with Dr. Baela Raza Jamil of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahiwho explained that education is the only chance for sustainable development in a developing country like Pakistan. The report went on to talk specifically about stipends and how they need to be available for all children who attend public or private schools in Pakistan.  It also included a wish list of wanting a secure academic environment for girls to learn, accelerated learning programs to be made available and even creating mobile schools to promote Literature Festivals as well. Some of the areas in which educated women can contribute are discussed

To help build a healthy nation.The health of a nation relies on the literacy rates of women. When a woman is literate she has a better understanding of how to take care of her reproductive health and children. If she has gained a higher form of education, she understands how to help others who are not as fortunate. If Pakistan is to grow as a country and with status, educating the Pakistani woman is an immediate need. They will not only help increase and maintain good health for their family but their actions can resonate across a community causing others to want the same education.

The Adolescent Family Centers (AFCs) are not only in Baluchistan but are located throughout Pakistan. They teach young girls about how to maintain good reproductive health and about basic life skills. These AFCs teach not only the essential tools for maintaining hygiene but include extracurricular activities as in organizing debate and speech competitions. These competitions alone help grow a person’s confidence and composure.

To help develop the economy. Women can greatly contribute to the economy of Pakistan when they receive an education. Women in Pakistan can go to school to become doctors, nurses, IT professionals, engineers, scientists and even fashion designers or architects. Women that are located strictly in rural areas can gain education from cottage industries or homeschooling. These cottage industries, the start-ups of Pakistan, often lay the groundwork for an enterprising young woman to make a mark in the world as a highly invested entrepreneur. This contribution to society not only helps elevate the status of her family but helps others and country in turn.

Support in transforming the young population into an educated generation. Women in Pakistan often make for better educators as they have a better understanding of how to manage a classroom. There are at least 570 Women Colleges, 1,560 Technical and Vocational Institutions and 41 teaching Institutions that cater only to women. It is very important to have women only degree awarding institutions for women. The parents of a motivated young woman are more apt to send their daughter to a college or university that is purely for women. Educating a young nation of women who crave a higher degree will not only bring prosperity to Pakistan but wealth to their families and to find a middle class among Pakistanis is something that is an essential building block for a thriving economy but this topic will be further divulged upon at a later time.

And now to find a balanced approach with which to help these women become literate without upsetting the patriarchal society of Pakistan, we offer some recommendations.In Pakistan, one must approach women’s literacy with a flexible point of view. Yes, most women in Pakistan would like to read, write and understand but there are others who are entrenched in a conservative community where women are not allowed to walk around freely, go to the market or attend school. It is essential that a mode of interacting with the village elders or the fathers of girls be the first step in helping these daughters of Pakistan to be able to attend school. Once a connection is established and firmly rooted, an academic standard can become the normal mode of education for that community.

We also recommend following steps to be taken by the government as well as concerned for increase in women literacy in Pakistan:

  • Islamabad to fund NGOs (that are in good standing) to develop sustainable programs for women literacy and have their progress monitored over several years as it takes time for the program to mature and sizable results to emerge.
  • Utilizing the benefits of monitoring and guidance from international agencies but keep management within the local communities
  • Increase programs for rural women development.
  • Raise awareness in women studying in colleges and universities to impart education and actively participate in rural women development. Under theproper guidance and continuous mentoring, these young women can lend a handin the intellectual development of other women of less privileged classes.
  • Encourage women who get medical education to remain in the profession or atleast serve 5 to 10 years and do not get education just for the sake of degree.
  • Reiterating the need for stipends across all academic fields, both public and private and make available for every female child of Pakistan.
  • Maintain a clean and safe environment for girls including boundary walls andseparate classrooms to encourage participation not only at primary but higher levels of education.
  • Women Teachers must be academically trained and certified and have proven ability on how to manage a classroom.
  • Include extracurricular activities such as art and field trips to enhance the talents and social environment of each female child.
  • Be consistent and committed to pursuing the policies Islamabad has implemented. Allow them to develop into complete and matured policies and programs throughout Pakistan.
  • Wajid Hassan is a Ph.D. Fellow in Technology Management at Indiana State University, USA. He currently serves as the President of Pakistani American Congress and is a concerned Citizen who has deep passion for the betterment of the lives of the people and thinks attainment of higher literacy rates and quality education is the only solution for this matter.