[Opinion] Gender Inequality in Education


Gender refers to socially constructed roles and responsibilities of women and men. The difference in roles and responsibilities among women and men stems from our families, societies and culture. The concept of gender includes our expectations about the characteristics, attitudes and behaviors of women and men. The different roles, rights and resources that both the genders have in society are important determinants of the nature and scope of their inequality and poverty. Inequality in access to resources between women and men is most common in poor and developing countries. Gender inequality/discrimination refers to inequality in conditions among women and men for realizing their human rights.

In Pakistan, home has been defined as women legitimate ideological and physical space where she performs her practical role as a mother and wife, while a man dominates the world outside the home and performs his productive role as a bread winner. Men and women are conceptually divided into two separate worlds. The household resources are allocated in the favor of sons due to their productive role. Male members of the family are given better education and are equipped with skills to compete for resources in public field (ADB, 2000), while female members are imparted domestic skills to be good mothers and wives. They are given limited opportunities to create choices for themselves in order to change the realities of their lives.

Pakistan shows gender inequality in education. Therefore, strong gender disparities exist in educational attainment between rural and urban areas and among the provinces in Pakistan (ADB, 2000). Pakistan is a patriarchal society, where women suffer all sorts of discrimination, resulting in low social, economic and political status in the society. According to the UNDP (1999), gender gap is increasing in all social sectors of Pakistan. Pakistan ranks 120 in 146 countries in terms of gender- related development index, and in terms of gender empowerment measurement ranking, it ranks 92 in 94 countries. Gender inequality in education can be measured by looking the Gross and net enrolment rates and completion and drop rates. Cultural limitations discourage parents from sending their daughters to mixed gender schools (NEP, 2007). However, the problem is not just of demand. There have been situations where girls are enrolled in boys’ schools even up to matric level, indicating that supply of quality girls schooling is falling short. Similarly, poor physical environment or lack of basic facilities in schools also discourages parents from sending their girls to schools.

According to National Educational Policy of Pakistan (2007), the educational status of women in Pakistan is unacceptably low, in fact, amongst the lowest in the world. The problem emanates at the primary level, as low participation and high dropouts at that stage prevent females from reaching higher education and equitable opportunities for such furtherance do not become available to the female gender. According to the Ministry of Women Development (2007) cited in NEP( 2007), only 19% of females have attained education up to Matric, 8% up to Intermediate, 5% a Bachelor’s degree and 1.4% achieved a Master’s degree. 60% of the female adult population is illiterate. Of the 3.3 million out of school children, 2.503 million are girls. 73.6% of primary age girls attend school, compared with 92.1% of boys. Moreover, a sizeable majority of rural girls drop out of primary schools.

Women in Pakistan do not form a homogeneous entity; their opportunities vary greatly with the social system that they are part of. In rural areas, patriarchal structures often combine with poverty to limit opportunities for women (NEP, 2007), while women belonging to the upper and middle classes have increasingly greater access to education and employment opportunities and can assume greater control over their lives. Educated and professional women in urban areas and from upper classes of the society enjoy much better status and rights than illiterate women in rural areas of Pakistan. Women in tribal areas of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and remote areas of southern Punjab and Interior Sindh live in more unpleasant social conditions than women in other parts of the country (PESFD, 2006-07). In rural areas, women are discouraged in attaining higher education just for the sake of avoiding the time when women can lead man, while in urban areas women are encouraged to get
education, so girls actively join the professional and technical courses. But after getting technically and professionally qualified they are not allowed permission to work, this is the reason we don’t find females at offices as much as we find males. This is the major drawback as it leads a nation towards economic disaster as half the nation in the form of females if won’t participate in economic activities and hence their professional qualification goes in the bin (UNDP, 1998). Girls excel in academics so more girls avail admissions in medical colleges. But, after getting qualified as M.B.S.S, majority girls do not practice due to our social issues.

In villages girls are usually not asked whom do they want to marry; parents just fix their wedding of their daughters to the groom of their choice. Sometime for land and money parents fix the wedding of their young girl to an old man. It has been observed that if a couple is involved in some unethical practice, people points the girl only, while boy is never considered guilty. If a female marries twice or thrice, she is considered awful, while the case is totally different in the case of the male. Divorced lady is treated in the same manner. Today’s life is male oriented. Females face gender discrimination everywhere. Discrimination is generated when the balance is not found.  What to blame other people, when parents themselves initiate gender disparity. Some parents only send their sons to schools while some send their sons and daughters both to schools but they put boys in good schools and girls in government local schools. Some forward-thinking people send both their sons and
daughters to good schools but at the time of sending children abroad, they discriminate and send their sons at first place.

Women’s lower social, economic, and cultural standing results in the low health and educational status of women. Social and familial control over women’s sexuality, their economic dependence on men, and restrictions on their mobility determine differential access of males and females to health services. Intra-household bias in food distribution leads to nutritional deficiencies among female children. Early marriages of girls, excessive childbearing, lack of control over their own bodies, and a high level of illiteracy adversely affect women’s health. Institutionalized gender bias within the health service delivery system in terms of lack of female service providers, and neglect of women’s basic and reproductive health needs, intensify women’s disadvantaged health status (ADB, 2000). Strong gender disparities exist in educational attainment between rural and urban areas and among the provinces. In 1996–1997 the literacy rate in urban areas was 58.3 percent while in rural areas it was 28.3 percent, and only 12 percent among rural women. There are also considerable inequalities in literacy rates among the four provinces, especially disparities between men and women (ADB, 2000).

Education is the most important instrument for human resource development. It has become a universal human right and an important component of opportunities and empowerment of women. A large number of empirical studies (World Bank, 2007 & Schultz, 2002) find that increase in women’s education boosts their wages and that returns to education for women are frequently larger than that of men. There are also many empirical evidences that, increase in female education improves human development outcomes such as child survival, health and schooling  explored that lower female education had a negative impact on economic growth as it lowered the average level of human capital. According to Knowles (2002), in developing countries female education reduces fertility, infant mortality and increases in children’s education.

Government of Pakistan makes amendments in the Constitution and promulgation of Local Government Ordinance, 2001; at least 33 percent of seats in each tier of local government are women. In the National Assembly, more than 60 seats are held by women out of 332 seats while over 128 seats are held by women out of 728 seats in the provincial assemblies. Similarly, there are 17 women in the Senate out of 100 members. While most of these women have been elected on reserved seats, some have won on general seats. Women participation in politics as voters, candidates and political activists is increasing. Representation by women is better than in most countries of the world, including the largest democracies of the world. This provides a good opportunity to address the gender gap in the education, social, economic and health sectors. Now there is a growing realization at the policy making level of the government that gender disparities and inequalities cannot be accepted and government has initiated a number of programs/projects and taken practical steps to reduce gender inequalities.

The contributor is a student of Masters in Education at the Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED).

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