By Eli Aaniyah
Gilgit Baltistan: a land of diversity draped like a shawl over the shoulders of the highest peaks on earth. The pull of this intense landscape and the beauty of its people reached across oceans and continents to me through the visionary dreams of my boss Ali Shafa. I have been very privileged to have the honour of being able to become part of Himalaya Rural Development Programme. Let me say very clearly here that I am not interested in pushing foreign ideas onto GB and its society. I am only stating observations and making comments. It is up to the people of GB to make the decisions about what, if anything, they want to do differently. My time in Gilgit Baltistan has given me the chance to observe its situations from a personal vantage point. One of the first things I noticed, and something that I have difficulty explaining to both GBians and westerners, is the absence of women from the social landscape. The people in GB don’t miss what they have never seen, and westerners can’t understand the why half the society is missing from view. I never saw a woman shop owner. I saw only a few women shopping or out for any reason. Where I saw the most women was washing clothes and doing mindless drudge work. This one thing, more than any other, was a surprise to me. In the efforts being made for gender equality, several things came to my mind to be given consideration. The first is the need for men in the society to make a firm commitment to the safety and respect for women outside the home. This idea is getting more support all the time from males in the society, but the courts are not adequately reflecting the trend. Another thing is giving women a voice in their own destinies. I listened as the only woman present at many meetings to men making all decisions about women’s issues. The men are worthy of great respect for putting forward so much energy for women. It is my hope that there will come a time very soon when more women will be able to speak and choose for themselves. Another important consideration is creating social space for women in the society, especially as more women become educated. Having employment and other opportunities for women is every bit as necessary as educating them.
I can’t think how many times I heard the saying, “Mother’s lap is the first university,” but female education is promoted abroad as being much more than that. If I am questioned by westerners on the matter of female education, I tell people it is much improved but far below what it needs to be. What I observed was an overall strong belief in the need for education of females and strong support for it amongst all the people. There were two all girls schools that I visited both with extremely dedicated staff. I met a lady teacher from Ghizer who was amazing. She was highly motivated and completely devoted to helping her students succeed. Women like her, whether in education or other fields, are an inspiration to me and awesome role models for the girls.
That being said, what I also saw was the presence of only a small percentage of the females in school. At one school, only 1% of the females in the local areas were enrolled. The consistency of attendance for females varies from one community to another. Poverty above all else was the dominating reason for this. Families simply could not always afford to keep their daughters in school. When faced with the choice of sending a son versus a daughter to school, families choose the boy because he is seen as the better long term investment. In the current society, the son will have a better chance of raising the family’s economic condition in the long term. Out of this came the idea for the Female Student Value Enhancement project. HRDP is working on a pilot project for the 8-11 years old female primary students to have a small micro finance project. We are working with veterinarian Muhammad Rasheed and Sir Ghulam Nabi Anjum of Future Guiders School to establish a pilot project for the little girls to be able to earn some money toward financing their own education or contributing to the family income.
Improving education quality is another key aspect for education in GB. Quality was variable from one school to another. Teachers need ongoing training. Capacity building and performance management systems are not well implemented in the schools. Ali Shafa developed a Global Unified Syllabus policy for standardizing education quality to enable GB students to matriculate to any school inside or outside GB and Pakistan. The Global Unified Syllabus envisioned by Shafa would confer an international level of quality in the education system of HRDP member schools. It is very important that our GB students receive an education product of high value.Large amounts of money are being literally dumped into higher education by GB families for their sons in particular to attend colleges and universities in cities of Pakistan. The result too often, unfortunately, is an education that must be remediated before it is possible to qualify for matriculation abroad. My own experience as a tutor for university students in Pakistan is that they are not even being taught proper citation methods, leaving their work open to charges of plagiarism by the international community and disqualification of any degree holdings. This is an entirely unnecessary risk and could be easily solved by raising the quality of instruction.