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Lack of democracy, feudalism blamed for widening gender gap in education

KHAIRPUR: Speakers at a national conference on ‘status of women in Pakistan’ put blame on lack of democracy and entrenched feudal system for the widening gap between genders in education and called for steps to curb sexual harassment, violence against women and gender disparity.

The conference was organised by the Institute of Gender Studies of the Shah Abdul Latif University in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission, Islamabad, on Friday.

Prof Dr Parveen Shah, vice chancellor SALU, said the status of women in Pakistan varied considerably across classes, regions, and rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and impact of tribal, feudal and capitalist mindset on women’s lives.

Sixty years on since the country’s independence, 80 per cent of Pakistani women were still made subject to domestic violence while one in three had to endure various types of villainy like rape, honour-killing, immolation and acid attacks.

She said the country was ranked 82nd on a list of 93 countries on the gender development index and 152nd out of 156 countries on the gender empowerment measure. Women’s access to property, education, employment remained lower than men, she said.

She said that females above 25 years of age with secondary education as in 2010 were 18.3 per cent while literacy rate among women stood at 39.6 per cent. In 2002, it was recorded that 81.5 per cent of 15-19 year old girls from high income families had attended schools while 22.3 per cent girls from low income group had never attended schools, she said.

The government’s education policies aimed at achievement of equality between girls and boys and encouraged girls in rural areas to acquire basic home management skills which were preferred over full scale primary education, she said.

Dr Shah blamed the lack of democracy and prevailing feudalistic practices for the widening gender gap in educational system. In 2008, it was recorded that 21.8 per cent of females made part of labour force in the country and their numbers had an annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent out of 47 million people employed in Pakistan.

In 2009, only nine million labour force were women and of that 70 per cent worked in agriculture sector.

The founder of Pakistan and his sister Fatimah Jinnah worked to eliminate injustice against women in the country while Zia’s military regime in 1977-86 had had a negative impact on women’s lives, she said.

She said the democratic regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1970-1977) was a period of liberal attitudes towards women, all government services were opened to women including the district management group and foreign services.

The former federal secretary of the Ministry of Women Development, Ms Parveen Qadir Agha, who was chief guest at the conference, said the Pakistani woman of today was a positive individual, a product of her environment and of her cultural value system, born with inherent rights granted to her by the religion.

She said that rate of female labour force participation (aged 15-64) was 23.40 as of 2011. Its highest value over the past 21 years was 23.40 in 2011, while its lowest value was 12.80 in 1995. “The image of woman is colored with existence of the universe. The inner emotions of life continue with her strings.

She said that women faced diseases like breast cancer and tuberculosis. It was the prerogative of the provinces after the 18th Amendment to provide treatment to women in backward areas.

Ms Kishwar Sultana of Insan Foundation, Islamabad, said the foundation promoted essence of humanity, dignity and respect for humanity. She shed light on women regional network with special reference to women peace security.

She said that women were venerable in conflict zones. Being displaced adversely in the conflict zone and were victimised in gender biased, sexual violence and harassment.

She stressed the security of women from sexual harassment, gender disparity and violence, especially, in the prevailing situation of militancy environment. “If we want to fight Talibanization mothers will have to keep a vigil eye on their sons who are being used in terrorism,” she said.

Prof Dr. Syed Ahmed Hussain Shah, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences & Arts, said that Islam had given high esteem to women for example Hazrat Bibi Fatima Zehra (RA) and Hazrat Zainab (RA).

Dr Tajnees Pirzada, head of the Institute of Gender Studies delivered vote of thanks to the speakers, research scholars and especially to HEC, DC Khairpur, Mr Munawar Ali Mithiani and other sponsors of the conference.

Prof Dr Anoosh Khan from University of Peshawar, Prof Dr. Raana Malik from University of Punjab, Lahore, Mr Ansar Abbas from University of Bahawalpur, Dr Javed Ahmed from Bahauddin Zakria University, Prof Dr Miandad Zardari, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Main Campus and Ms Hasana Cheema also presented their papers on the status of women in Pakistan.

Deans of various faculties, Dr Syed Asad Raza Abidi, the Registrar, offices, professors and large number of female teachers, female students and civil society activists attended the conference, said a handout.