Gender is referred to socially constructed norms, values, roles and responsibilities attributed to men and women in society. In our society generally women are disadvantaged based on these attributes which refers to the gender inequity. It means injustice and unfairness in women’s and men’s access to the resources. Gender Inequity in our society and most prominently in schools shows that females aren’t getting the attention and fair access to their rights. Till recent past schools were imparting the same messages which men and women are associated with in societies. However, during the last decade researches on gender in education has highlighted critical findings regarding the role played by the formal curriculum, teaching strategies, teacher-students interactions and teachers’ beliefs which re-enforce or modify the gender stereotypes perpetuated in the schools through general society. The following passage presents the current social practices prevailing in our society at home level i.e. preferences of son over daughter and their implications for gender in education. Specific recommendations are also presented to the said domain.
Gender Inequity: Female Child’s Social Status and Its Consequences
The first and the foremost social practice starts at the home level that is giving more preferences to boys as compare to girls. Son preference is explicitly expressed by parents and a family in many countries, but perhaps it’s the most visible manifestation seen in the majority of countries in south Asia (Pandy, 2004). This occurs to such an extent that such societies often have an excess levels of female mortality and higher proportion of men to women in the population than is considers ‘standard’ in the rest of the world (Pandy, 2004) . In consonance with patriarchal norms the son is perceived to be the bread winner, the future head of the family and the supporter of the parents in their old age. In a survey of 850 families in Bangladesh (PHERB, 2006; cited in ESCAP, n.d.), 93% of the parents preferred a son as a blessing to families and country and 96% felt that the birth of a daughter would be a “problem” to the family and state. Pregnant mothers were reported to seek medicine from the “imams” to have a son and it was expected that a baby daughter would receive differential treatment as “burden’. In our societies it has been observed that starting from the very beginning of pregnancy women are expected to give birth to a baby boy. Due to that mother becomes conscious of and mostly worried about the matter which is totally out of her control, which is according to neuroscience very bad for both mom and the brain development of the fetus in mother’s womb (boys and girls both).
Moreover, better treatment given to boys inevitably disadvantages girls. I have seen that in some families, women are asked from the head of families to stop breastfeeding girls and stop them early so as to be able to try for a male child, thereby depriving girls of essential nutrients. Moreover, girls are compelled to eat whatever food is left over, with this gender difference in access to food reflected in the higher levels of under nutrition and malnutrition among girls; and girls are reported to have less access to health services, including immunization (ESCAPE, n.d, &Work, 2006). The (PHREB 2006, cited in ESCAPE, n.d.) survey also found that some girls committed suicide as they were not treated “as human beings” (p.17) and I have also observed many cases in my context very similar to this one. It reveals that such stereotypes create frustration in their life and they tend to denied access to education and not enrolled in schools, or they continue drop out at an earlier age than boys. Recent education policies in Pakistan have impacted to improve the situation but lack of access to and dropouts of girls from school continue to be problems. Gender inequalities in education in such societies are simply one aspect of generalized and systematic discrimination against women and girls.
Literatures as well as my own experiences tell that there are differences in celebrating the birth of baby boy and girl, which have implications for the social and emotional development of both children. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in South Asia (Bernedes, Fikrer, & Hussain, 2000). In Pakistani rural context, it is common to celebrate the birth of a boy and regret the birth of a girl. I have seen in my context that the elders of the family used to fire on boys’ birth in order to celebrate the occasion and very interestingly father enjoys great pride with assurance of continuity of the family line and protection of the property. Contrary to that, the reception ceremony of girl’s birth is very minimal and less colorful. Moreover, it is the common observation that family heads usually extort money on boy’s birth; expand substantially larger amounts in meal and feast when a boy is born. Interestingly, mother who gives birth to a baby boy get value in the family. It is seen that after delivery she remains in special care, love and attention among her in-laws. In opposite to that less value is being attributed to the mother of baby girl. It reveals that the social practices within the society and home favors the so-called notion of man as ‘provider’ and woman as a ‘care giver’ (Ashraf, 2009). These kinds of treatment start from the conception of the baby and goes on till the children go to school, opt careers and get married.
Moreover, parents prefer to send the boys to school and expect from the girls to stay in the premises of the home or to study in the schools very near to the home with minimum fee. Most of the parents believe that the return from girls’ schooling is considered to be lower than boys, additionally; they perceived that it is useful to invest on son’s education as compare to daughters because sons typically are providers for parents in their old ages while daughters tend to leave and become parts of different household economic unit (Mohayyudin, 2005). These kinds of the attitudes of parents ultimately result in low enrolment of girls in the school. It is very much evident in one of the reports of (UNESCO, 2010, p. 10) that till 2009 the primary net enrolment rate (NER) of female is 54% and male is 61% in Pakistani schools. The given statistics shows that the increase enrolment rate is very slow and the gender gap has been persisted over many years of educations. It means that Pakistan has failed to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs) of achieving gender equality which state, “by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling” (UNICEF, 2007, p.7). If the situation remains same then it will not success even by 2015. (Qureshi & Rarieya, 2007)
In nutshell, harmful tradition and cultural practices are prevalent in all over Pakistan. Son preference is common and manifests in the denial of health and education opportunities to girls and women, reinforcing negative stereotypical values that also contribute to interfamily and domestic violence. Also, the practices and traditions result in the low enrolment of the girls in schools.
On the basis of above facts and figures it is recommended that research must be done and transformed into accessible publications in local languages to promote community and public awareness of the existence of harmful traditional and cultural practices that result in violence and inequity against women. (ESCAPE, n.d.). Furthermore, more and more campaigns should be conducted on television and radio to highlight the importance of education for both girls and boys, and encourage parents to send their children, especially girls, to school. Currently, the Government of Pakistan is spending about 2 % of GDP on education (UNESCO, 2010). This is not enough, given the educational needs of the country. The Government must spend more on the education and ensure balanced distribution to especially girls’ and women’s education. However, the new National Education Policy of 2009 has made strong commitments and policy recommendations for bringing gender equity in the field of education; yet, its instant implementation is needed, so that Pakistan would be able to achieve the gender equity in education mentioned in MDGs.
The contributor is a student of Aga Khan University – Institute for Educational Development.
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