Shedding light upon the issue of retaining girls in schools, a session on the progress of a programme, ‘Bringing girls back to school’, was held at a local hotel on Wednesday.
All participants, including representatives from the government and non-government sectors, unanimously agreed that unless female teachers were employed in schools in villages and towns, especially in rural Sindh, girls would not acquire education the way the state wanted them to.
Organised by the Indus Resource Centre (IRC) in collaboration with the Sindh Schools Department, the session also included the launch of Gender Responsive Budgeting handbook and highlighted various problems with the enrollment of girls in schools in the province.
The organisation has conducted several trainings and sessions with the teaching staff to create gender sensitivity, as well as encouraging more female teachers to teach at girls’ schools in order to increase the number of attendees.
“It is often seen that people avoid sending their girls to co-educational schools, if any, and often enlist but not send them to all girls’ schools if male teaches are employed there,” said Muzammil Sherani of the IRC.
He shared that following the year-long programme in the Dadu district, with more female teachers being trained, a rise of 70 per cent to 80 per cent from 20 per cent to 30 per cent was witnessed, with the number of girls in schools going up to 1,487 from 997 in 10 schools. It was also said that the community of the areas were also taken on board and awareness campaigns were held to stress the importance of sending girls to schools.
A ‘Taleemi Mela’ was also organised addressing child marriages by exploring its relation with education as a hurdle for girls. However, there were many problems faced by the organisation, as many times it was hard for its representatives to build relations with government officials owing to their frequent transfers.
Speaking about the syllabus, Sherani said that the course material had to be revised to make the content more gender sensitive by removing stereotypical notions propagated in them. One of the participants, Zulfiqar, who represented the education department, pointed out that often, many girls didn’t attend schools even if they were admitted because there were no functional toilets there.
Activist and researcher Sarah Zaman referred to the reproductive health of girls and raised the issue of many of them being asked to stay home during menstruation. “The majority of the girls do not have access to sanitary health due to which they are bound to take a week off every month due to periods, and this is often ignored because we tend to avoid speaking about it,” she said.
The Gender Responsive Budgeting handbook would help the departments in ensuring the allocation of funds by giving priority to gender equity at all stages, especially education. Consultant and researcher Mohammad Sabir, who has drafted the handbook, said that it was important to separate myths from realities regarding the correct method to ensure the enrollment of all students.
“Just because one method would work in one village doesn’t mean the same can be applied elsewhere. There are places where one needs to take a boat ride of two hours to reach another point, so issues there would be different than in an area which doesn’t require transportation on water,” he said.
He added that it was impossible to expect any changes without crafting a policy, that too fiscal, to make sure that all recommendations could be translated into concrete steps. Later, the findings of a study regarding disparities between urban and rural schools in the district of Dadu by taking a sample of 20 schools were shared. It was concluded that boys’ schools in both rural and urban settings were far better than those for girls, with urban schools having improved infrastructure.
It was also seen that the major reason for girls dropping out of school was early marriages as compared to the migration of families elsewhere in rural areas. However, it was also disturbing to see that the majority of the teachers did not consider corporal punishment wrong; rather, they deemed it necessary.
“Almost 100 per cent of boys in urban schools and 83 per cent in rural schools have received punishment, whereas around 57 per cent of girls in rural schools and 67 per cent in urban schools received corporal punishment,” an IRC representative said.