A WOMAN’S education has always been seen as a cost rather than a benefit. The developing world has rarely viewed it outside the confines of monetary gain. Therefore, education policies have hardly focused on individual choice and equality. Societal benefits of educating the female will penetrate generations by decreasing infant mortality, fertility rates and unwanted pregnancies – as emphasised by the World Bank in a recent statement on World Population Day. The Bank believes that “fifty-one million unintended pregnancies in developing countries occur every year to women not using contraceptives” and that improved access to birth control and education will slash these abysmal statistics considerably. Unsurprisingly, education will also arm women with skills and independence, enabling them to secure jobs, delay marriage and have a say in the number of children they want – rewards that will be the birthright of their girl progenies, bringing the curse of male supremacy to a welcome end.
However, for Pakistan these ambitions are still mere musings. According to the Education Development Index, Pakistan surfaces at the bottom of the list, behind Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s latest review of education sees “Pakistan’s education system…among the most deficient and backward in Asia”. Meanwhile, local surveys reveal that 10.3 million children in Pakistan cannot afford to go to school out of which seven million are girls and 42 per cent of the country’s women cannot read. This is despite the fact that Pakistan is a signatory to the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its article 10 clearly specifies that women will not be discriminated against and will enjoy ‘equal opportunities in the field of education’. Goal three of the Millennium Development Goals also speak of promoting gender equality. It specifically calls for the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Pakistan is obliged to strive to achieve this goal.
The great paradox, however, is that female emancipation cannot be achieved without educating and sensitising the male. The government must focus on inculcating insight amongst men through perhaps, door to door campaigns that include family counselling sessions and emphasise social behavioural reforms – force conservative clans to see the schooling of a girl child as an ‘investment’ rather than a futile expense. On the other end, new means of penetrating orthodox environs have to be sought such as increasing the number of schools on wheels and home tutorial projects. These initiatives need donors who believe in the promise of gender equality in learning and also in a woman’s right to her body and mind.