The mere ability to read this sentence sets you apart from almost 42 percent of the Pakistani population. What is more shocking is the fact that only a couple of years ago, this percentage would have been 40. Compared to other countries, the literacy rate in Pakistan has been one of the lowest; the rate of progress is atrociously sluggish as it has managed to drop, yes you heard it right, drop, from an already skimpy 60 percent to a pitiful 58 percent (Shaikh, 2019). The odds dwindle even more if one is a female since most of them are home-bound due to societal expectations; the literacy rate for females in Pakistan is a distressingly meagre 49 percent (Geo News, 2020). Even though the overall literacy rate for the country is quite low, there is highly evident gender disparity, especially in rural areas. It is this phenomenon, which leads to an even smaller percentage of girls who are literate and is factored by the internal structuring of the educational system as well as the societal dogmas which surround the concept of female education.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the literacy rate differs over the whole country, with Balochistanbeing the lowest and Punjab being the highest with a rate of 44 and 63 percent respectively (Derbyshire, 2020). It is essential to acknowledge that societal expectations for women play a substantial role in them being under-educated as compared to their male counterparts. Such gender roles are highly prevalent in rural areas as compared to urban ones due to the traditional mindset of women being the homemakers and the men being the breadwinners. Many girls are talked out of their future dreams and aspirations as many parents believe that money is better invested in their sons as compared to their daughters. This is a thought process of many families due to the fact that many women are married off to go live with their husbands while the sons stay with the parents and take care of them, this means that giving the son good education is more preferable when it comes to financial stability of their own future. Over time, a large number of private schools of varying quality have popped up all over the country; this exponential increase is triggered by the failure of government schools for the majority of the students. Since many families are highly conservative and religious, they prefer sending their daughters to Madrasas where they are provided with religious education and nothing else. As girls approach puberty, many of them are removed from schools as families fear them engaging in romantic relationships; a practice which is greatly looked down upon. Some other families have a deep-rooted, yet justified, fear that their daughters or sisters will get molested or sexually harassed on their route to schools. All of these add up and lead to the rampant practice of child marriage, a societal problem that is both the cause as well as the result of female illiteracy. As a matter of fact, almost 3 percent of the girls get married before they turn 15, and 21 percent get married before they turn 18; while most of the others are married off right after they turn 18 (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
Other than these societal expectations and roles, significant barriers from within the educational system also hinder the progress of females in educational institutes and literacy. Even though there is a vast influence of private schools and religious madrasas, it is integral that the government steps up and takes the responsibility of the welfare of its citizens and provides them with high-quality primary education. The government does not invest sufficiently in the educational sector or schools; as a matter of fact, the government spending is alarmingly low as compared to what is recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This results in lack of access to education for students who are willing to study, due to the unavailability of a school in their surroundings or the institution being too far for them to commute. If there is a government school present in the area (as private schools are often too expensive for rural or lower class citizens to afford), it is often overcrowded so either the child does not get a place in the school or even if he/she does get to study there, they are not provided with enough attention which hinders them from excelling. Moreover, the education is expensive for many families to afford, with one sole breadwinner of the house unable to foot the bill for school supplies, uniform, course books and stationery. The lack of funds promotes the “drop-out” culture where boys are encouraged to become labourers, and girls are encouraged to stay in their homes and help out in everyday tasks or to get married.
Moreover, there is absolutely no enforcement of the notion that education is compulsory even though the constitution of Pakistan itself claims that the State will provide free and compulsory education for children from the ages of five to sixteen. There has been no effort from the government to even try and enforce this; an oversight which leaves millions every year unable to read or write and hence handicaps them to the prospect of having a brighter future or in breaking the cycle of poverty. The few schools which are present in rural areas have a deplorable quality of education due to underfunded teachers and ramshackle facilities which are not up to the standards required for quality education. The teachers themselves are not qualified enough to teach the students, which leads to the curriculum being unregulated and highly spread out with no specific formation. All these factors further discourage the already reluctant families from sending their daughters to school as they deem it a waste of time, money and energy.
Pakistan certainly has a long and rocky terrain ahead in its journey to achieving 100 percent literacy, especially while it’s plagued by societal norms and traditions which have never been in favour of education. The most essential and integral step to take is to work on the awareness within people, especially families who are situated in rural areas and harbour the highest levels of opposition against female education. This requires support from both, the government as well as all the non-profit entities and NGOs to join hands and work on combating this widespread problem first hand. To do so, families can be visited door to door and can be briefed on how educating the females of the house is actually an investment, with all the positives of education highlighted to them in attempts of convincing them. The teachers must also be put through a vigorous training and testing process which assures that they have high enough qualifications to entrust our country’s future in their hands. Another major deal-breaker for instructors and tutors is the low pay; to deal with this, the government can be asked to provide subsidies to schools which would be used to increase the standard of the classrooms as well as raise the pay. There should be an increased focus on building new girls-only schools in many inaccessible areas which provide both religious and conventional education and therefore making the prospect of sending their girls to school more appealing for the parents. Books and uniforms should be provided for free or at least at subsidized rates alongside other facilities which may allow the girls to study and eventually succeed. With a dark past of inattentiveness to the problem, it is essential that female illiteracy is brought to the forefront before it becomes incurable. As a society, how long will we stay silent at the blood of all the dreams, which were never fulfilled because we failed to do our part for the underprivileged of our country? How many more girls need to be child brides or be shacked to their kitchens while their potential wastes away before we wake up from the deep slumber we are residing in? Think of all those future doctors and scientists who are yearning to do great things for our country as well as the world but are stopped from achieving their aspirations. Time is running out and the window to act is closing, this is the time to rally for female literacy before it is too late!
Derbyshire, V. (2020, March 2). Literacy Rate in Pakistan 2020, UNESCO | INNNEWS.PK. INN News. https://innnews.pk/literacy-rate-in-pakistan-2020/
Geo News. (2020). Pakistan Economic Survey 2020. Www.Geo.Tv. https://www.geo.tv/latest/292665-pakistan-economic-survey-2020
Human Rights Watch. (2018, November 13). “Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her?” | Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/11/12/shall-i-feed-my-daughter-or-educate-her/barriers-girls-education-pakistan
Shaikh, S. H. (2019, February 24). Alarming literacy rate. The Nation. https://nation.com.pk/24-Feb-2019/alarming-literacy-rate