Government continues to sideline female education (Opinion)

By Khadija Mughal

Education and literacy have never been the top priority of any government in Pakistan. This is especially true for the education for women. In the last seven decades, education may have been a part of election campaigns of every party, or military rulers for that matter, however, the implication of these slogans has seldom saw the light of the day.

The condition for women literacy has worsened and the recent report by World Economic Forum (WEF) over gender inequality is the latest example. The report ranked Pakistan at 153 out of 156 countries, making it the fourth worst country in the world, while it stood at sixth among seven South Asian states, beating only Afghanistan.

The report further stated that there is a gender gap in education up to 13% or more across all levels of education. “These gaps are the widest at lower education levels (84.1% primary enrolment gap closed) and are somewhat narrower for higher education levels (84.7% gap closed in secondary enrolment and 87.1% closed in tertiary enrolment),” the report said.

The same report further explained that only 46.5% of women in Pakistan are literate, as 61.6% attend primary school, 34.2% attend high school and only 8.3% are enrolled in university-level education courses. Experts, understandably, say that the current numbers paint a bleak overall picture for the future.

Another report by Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) 2018-2019 noted that only half of girls aged 10 or older have ever gone to school. Observers say this stat alone is enough to show the abysmal condition of women literacy in Pakistan.

The survey further revealed that the condition is not much hope for the newer generation, as only 64% of women aged between 15 and 24 can read and write. This higher rate only reflects the progress made in Punjab and the urban areas across the country. The percentage in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 50%, in Sindh, it is 55% and in Balochistan, it is only 32%.

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Member of Balochistan provincial assembly Sana Ullah Baloch said: “In last 10 years, the percentage of education has fallen down by 8%. Earlier it was 42% and now it is only 34% overall.” The politician compared the scenario with Palestine, where the percentage is 97% and in Indian Occupied Kashmir, where it is 86%. “And the government has not discussed this national emergency even for one day.”

The effect of this low literacy rate is direct as women with lower education remain unable to get a proper job and most of them force to join the formal labour force. Along with labour jobs, the women remain confined to informal activities i.e., in rural areas they work on farms as a daily labourer, while in urban areas, they mostly work as household workers. Another major disadvantage of no or very low education is a dependency on men. Owing to their low incomes, they cannot run their families themselves, and with these mere incomes, they cannot save money to accumulate personal assets.

The dependency on men makes them vulnerable to domestic violence. As per a 2018 survey by Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), “28% of women in Pakistan aged between 15 to 49 experience physical violence at home. And the rate of this violence is highest where literacy rate of women is lowest, for example, in Balochistan 48% of women face domestic violence.”

Another major setback of the low literacy rate is family development. Observers underline that an illiterate woman will not be able to help her children in education, she would not be able to assist them in setting proper future goals and will not be able to help them in making educated decisions, hence, an impact for generations.

Experts urge that Pakistan needs to focus on women’s education because it is not only vital for them, but for society and coming generations.

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