I stared out the windshield of the jeep at the truck coming straight at us down the narrow road, knowing that we would edge to the side at the last minute. The driver was talking on his cell phone as he shifted gears and dipped the jeep through the potholes before getting back onto the pavement after sliding by the truck. In the back of the jeep, a burst of laughter from my colleagues rang out at some joke told. The many hours of riding in the jeep for my male colleagues were spent discussing our work as well as interacting on a friendly basis. I was isolated in the front seat unable to participate because I was a woman. When we would arrive at our destination, the men had made some decisions that affected what we were going to be doing, but I had been excluded from that whole process because of my gender.
Female education in Pakistan has made tremendous progress. Yet the progress is marred by failure to plan for how to bring women into the mainstream of society. I attended meeting after meeting, too many to count, with men deeply committed to female education. There were only two occasions where another woman was present. The first was a female professor at AWKUM who spoke no word during the gathering. The second was a female teacher from Ghizer teaching at Islamia School in Kachura. This woman spoke with energy and clear understanding of the issues facing her students, her female students in particular. What was even more ironic was that across from me past the circle of chairs placed outside for our meeting, was a group of women with small children washing clothes in the stream by the school building. These women and children acted as unintentional representatives of every word being spoken by the female teacher about children unable to attend school because of poverty, about female students in particular being left behind in the education process. She spoke with feeling about trying to find ways to help her students outside of class, of giving her time in numerous large and small ways to keep the children engaged in their education in spite of the odds against them. She spoke of how she leveraged the fact she was a female teacher to gain better access to her female students outside of class time to try to help them.
It makes sense from the standpoint of parents with strict limits on their resources to place higher value on working to give their sons a complete education over their daughters. Sir Ghulam Nabi Anjum, who operates Future Guiders School in Skardu, explained that the families see their sons as a better long term investment because it is the sons who will give the economic return. The majority females do not complete their education, and in fact are lucky to finish primary. There is no intrinsic value for educating females comparable to that of the males. No long term plans are being made by the society on how to create a social and economic space for these upcoming young women. In fact, even if a woman is able to complete a university education and find a good job, it may all be moot if her husband wants her to stay in the home once she marries.
‘Mother’s lap is the first university’ is a saying regularly repeated by the proponents of female education. This is quite true. The children of an educated mother are going to fare better in life from the start. That being said, it is necessary to attend to the growing need for ways to provide educated females with places in the society and employment sector. The hard work of many men has made it possible for a growing number of women to achieve a university education. Females of all ages need ways to make their education worthwhile in multiple venues of their lives, and to be able to do it safely. One of the main issues cited for keeping females in the home is the risk of sexual harassment, sexual attack, or physical violence they face. Females of all ages endure street harassment, Eve baiting, rape, and acute physical violence. Social media has played a huge role in pushing these issues out of the shadows and they are beginning to be dealt with.
The solution is not to keep women as prisoners within their own lives. Rather, it would be an act of wisdom to construct a plan for transitioning women into the society and generating solutions to the problem of male sexual misbehavior by some men. One way this can be done is to educate both genders how to interact in appropriate ways. Trainings are already being done by some employers. This can be expanded both in the number of trainings being given and in the depth of the trainings. It is also worth considering intergender communication and behavior training being instituted across all the ages, all the way down to primary education. As the counterpoint to that, real consequences need to be enforced on males who mistreat females. Without this added component, there is no reason for resistant males to cooperate with behaving better.
Society is becoming increasingly globalized. People in the most remote villages have internet access which in turn gives them access to the world beyond their immediate experience. It is not realistic to think females will continue to tolerate being held captive in their homes. In addition, the young generation is having males who have more open minded views. It is not necessary to entirely copy the west in how males and females interact. Leaders throughout the society can come together to produce a change plan with specific targets, objectives, and timelines that can be applied in schools, employment sites, and other situations.
After three days of being separated from my colleagues in the jeep, I finally told them I was either going to walk or ride in the back with them. After a moment of reflection, I was told I could go ahead and ride in the back with the rest of them. The end result was better teamwork because we were all present for the discussions during the drives. It is quite possible and quite desirable for males and females to be able to function with and around each other, enhancing outcomes. It’s time to plan the change.
The contributor has a B.S. in Integrative Biology and a Masters in Healthcare Management and Administration, specializing in strategic change and innovation. She is an Assistant Director and Global Outreach Coordinator with HRDP