GUEST WRITER

GEENA SALEH

Standing amidst a crowd of concerned students, I heard the speech of the Vice Chancellor giving his official statement regarding the sexual harassment case at the central courtyard in Lahore University of Management Sciences.Word had it that a girl aged 24 had been harassed by an instructor within the classroom. Prior to this event, Lahore University of Management Sciences had miraculously earned the reputation of being the only institution in Pakistan tobe gender neutral but this too had now changed.

My mother being an activist for equal education constantly reminds me to not take my education for granted. The 2012 annual report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan details many challenges women face in Pakistan including being attacked and killed on account of asserting their rights to education. A prime example is Malala Yousafzai. This is the same year, the National Assembly passed article 25 A which emphasized free and more importantly equal access to education but being a girl in Pakistan, I had learnt that a constitutional article could not topple over a complex system of such injustices.

Sitting over dinner, I asked my mother why such disparities exist and why are women always at the receiving end of such inequalities? In response, she replied that cultural stereotypes were at the root of such problems. According to a report published in 2013, Pakistan ranks as the world’s second-worst country in terms of gender equality and equitable division of resources.Inequality in education was just one of the many reflections of such disparities. Parents often feel that investing time and money in theirdaughter’s education is worthless as they will eventually get married off and not work in the future. Of course this problem is added to by the existing position of Pakistan in terms of poverty. As many as 58.7 million people in Pakistan are living in multidimensional poverty. Therefore, for people living below the poverty line, allocating funds to eradicate such injustices is the least of their concerns. This is also the reason why the government budget for education has been two percent over the past twenty years.

Increasingly, parents feel that their daughter’s safety and attainment of education are two opposing poles. Terrorist organizations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban have openly declared their stance against girls receiving education. Bombings of girls’ schools by terrorist agencies have now become common day news. Only three years ago, my classmates and I were asked to evacuate our school which is located in Defence Lahore after receiving a bomb threat.

If one looks at the reasons for such disparities from a birds-eye, it is easy to realize that the problems are deeply engraved within a large system. A system comprised of spheres of culture, economy and the security of the state. Therefore, gender disparities in the education system cannot be looked at in isolation. This is not to say that the problem cannot be fixed but to emphasize that the solution must also consider these spheres. The reason why article 25 A and others have failed is because they have ignored these dimensions. Although they attempted to dissolve gender differences through passing legislation that makes education for girls compulsory, they left out the economic aspect of whether the provincial or federal government will pay for this system to be implemented.

Of course there cannot be one solution to end the wide array problems faced by women and girls in Pakistan with regards to education, but, certain steps can be taken to reduce these disparities. The primary step is to increase the budget on education. Only then can the solutions be implemented in actuality. After the budget has been increased parents must be made aware of the benefits of educating their girls and this can only be done if encouraging steps are taken before, after and during the education process. For example, a fine should be levied on parents who do not send their daughters to school and more jobs should be made available for women after they have completed their education systems. A way to do this could be to introduce vocational training periods within the academic curriculum. Within the classroom, more female teachers and faculty should be introduced to not only set an example of a working woman but to also make the parents more comfortable with sending their daughters to school. The government should also include the cost of safety into the revised education budget. It is also important to note that every community is different and therefore a general solution will not only be hard to implement but will be rendered ineffective. Therefore, region-specific calendars should be encouraged to allow girls to attend classes so that they do not have to compromise on house-hold or other duties.

Although coming up with such solutions is extremely important, the most important aspect of this would be to implement a transparent monitoring and evaluation system which should be independent of any political parties or governments reign. Often projects with immense potential end simultaneously with the reign of the government.As the reform of such a vital system will take more than one or two tenures legislation should ensure that previous projects are not terminated after a new government is elected.

Coming back to myself, just as my mother said, girls must stop taking the education we receive for granted and must tirelessly strive change this system. We must end our role of being passive observers. We must believe that an equal footing is not only possible but is also the only way forward. Like Herbert Spencer once said “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.”

RESEARCH

Pakistan ranks as the world’s second-worst country in terms of gender equality and equitable division of resources and opportunities among men and women, says a report published Friday.

Pakistan comes down at 135, followed only by Yemen, and its score has fallen three spots since the study was conducted last year.

The comprehensive annual report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas, including economic participation and opportunity (salaries, participation and highly skilled employment), educational attainment (access to basic and higher levels of education), political empowerment (representation in decision-making structures), health and survival (life expectancy and sex ratio).

According to the index, Pakistan ranks second-worst in economic participation and opportunity, eighth-worst in terms of equal access to education, 13th from the bottom in terms of health and survival.