(image by Izzah Zainab)
Saira turned nine year old this year. She wants to go in the police. Fixing her eyes earnestly on my face, eyes that are too big for her thin, under nourished face, she tells me why she wants to join the police, "I will lock up all men who beat their wives and their little girls." Her voice was resolute. Her tone dead serious.
Saira has spent the nine years of her life watching her father beating up her mother. A woman who single handedly is bringing up their five daughters while he lived with his mistress. She has seen her mother landing up in hospital due to physical abuse meted out to her many a time when he has come for a visit. Her fault is that she has no extra money to give him at the end of the month when the meager funds dwindle to nothing, or refuses to have sex with him when demanded.
Her father and his girlfriend both served time in jail during investigations for the murder of the latter's husband. Her father has never contributed a penny to the household ever since the start of the affair. Saira's mother is not aware whether her husband has married his girlfriend or not after being released from jail. She herself starts the day early in the morning, going from house to house cleaning and washing clothes. She works in the affluent area of DHA, Lahore. Saira and a younger sister go to a neighborhood school courtesy the kindness of one of the begums she works for, who pays for their education. Ayesha clearly wants a different fate for herself. She wants an education. She wants a career. In short, she wants a life!
According to experts, about 57 million children cannot go to primary school, while about one-third of girls worldwide are denied education. Unesco's Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFAGMR) revealed Pakistan is in the bottom 10 countries, according to the proportion of poor girls who have never been in school. According to the report, only six African countries fare worse than Pakistan in this respect. It revealed 62% girls in Pakistan, aged between seven and 15, have never spent time in a classroom. This is compared to 30% in India and 9% in Bangladesh.
The report showed Pakistan was also in the bottom 10 countries ranked according to the time young women spend in school in their lifetime. It stated girls, between the ages of 17 and 22, on an average spend one year in school in Pakistan. Girls in India and Bangladesh, in comparison, spend 2.9 and 4.4 years in school on an average." (Published November 10, 2012)
Besides the budgetary restrictions are the social issues that places a female on a lower scale than a male. Although Pakistan is a kaleidoscope of the old and the modern, the urban and the rural, a mixture of different value structures and different approaches to issues including gender issues - domestic violence, taking of decisions by the male member of the family to the exclusion of female opinion (generally speaking), preference to male siblings is a seemingly regular pattern. In the rural areas, restrictions placed on the women can be harsher than those placed on their counterparts in urban centers. This is particularly true of the lower income class. Opportunities for a formal education are limited. Girls are at best allowed to read the Quran in exclusion to anything else.
A great deal of work is required to be done for gender equality in the field of education alone in Pakistan. In particular the northern areas of Pakistan have been afflicted by this approach after the incursion of Taliban influence. Lest we forget, Islam makes no distinction between men and women to acquire education, even if it means going to "China'.
An interesting report by Cynthia Lloyd, Cem Mete, and Monica Grant quote a 1995 research by Warwick and Reimers suggesting that it was never the policy of the government to provide equal educational access and that the Pakistani government followed a rough rule of thumb, building one girls' primary school for every two boys' primary schools in the rural areas. Added to the existing societal and economic issues that are discouraging towards female education, are fears of militancy especially in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. In news published on July 21, 2012; Education department statistics reveal that a staggering 100 schools have been destroyed in Mohmand Agency alone.
According to yet another report, "Dozens of schools, mostly for girls, have been blown up in the city while hundreds were destroyed in rest of the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) during the past few years. The number of destroyed schools in Swat alone is more than 200." It echoes of Taliban approach against women in Afghanistan, where in a period of 3 months of capturing Kabul, they closed 63 schools that offered education to 103,000 girls. Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Education of a woman educates a generation. Would we want the coming generations to be brought up by a bunch of illiterate women? I think not.
We generally tend to look towards the government to fix all our problems. May that be arranging for electricity, dealing with terrorism and provision of other basic facilities for masses. However, we need introspection regarding our role as socially responsible citizens. We have an obligation to benefit the society at large. No doubt certain areas are best handled by the policymakers but there are some where citizens can play a positive role. Let the government do its part of the job. Let us do ours.
Here I would like to suggest an out-of-box solution to promote female education. It is not a novel idea and is followed by many kind souls. There are many who can afford to contribute to at least one female child's education. This may cost around Rs 1500/- for admission and a monthly amount of Rs 500/- up to matric level. Another 500/- for miscellaneous cost. Not more than a thousand monthly at outside maximum. In terms of current inflation, this is a nominal amount. Higher education of course will cost more.
One does not need to join organizations or go searching for a child to support educationally. Those living in urban areas, have live-in or visiting servants. They have children. The beautiful Sairas who may never have a life without your support. In the rural areas too, there are people who can hardly afford to have two square meals a day, any extra will likely go the male sibling not to the female offspring. For professional education of under-privileged girls two or more people can pool resources.
There is a Social Welfare Center in Township Lahore, a beautiful set of buildings, housing mentally challenged children, old citizens, orphans and last; women and children. In the category housing women and children; the off springs are all girls. The mothers are widowed, divorced or turned upon the world owing to varied circumstances without any resources to fend for themselves. Many of the girls here want to get an education but do not have the resources. The institution is run by the government and beautifully managed. However, it cannot help these girls become doctors and engineers and join other professions though some do go to attend primary and middle level government schools in the neighborhood.
Then there are corporations, multi-nationals and business set-ups that are committed to the welfare of the countries they operate in. This may be in one or different fields ie education, vocational training and promoting arts and crafts, so on and so forth. This goes beyond just a relationship between the sellers and the buyers to sell goods and make profits. This commitment reflects a desire to improve the lot of the people they sell their wares in.
One such organization is the Fauji Fertilizer Company. It has invested in education which includes Sona Public School (MirpurMathelo), FFC Model and Grammar Schools (MirpurMathelo and Goth Machhi), Sona Computer Institute (SCI) and 14 FFC Adopted Government Primary Schools (MirpurMathelo and Goth Machhi).
Women continue to be subject of violence; writers keep on writing about it, activists continue to fight against it and media continues to report the injustices. The paradigm must change. As citizens of Pakistan we need to stand up for the Sairas of Pakistan. As corporations we need to exercise social responsibility and support the Sairas around us. And as groups of people we need to pool our resources to see more and more under privileged girls get an education. For them, it's not just an education. It's a new lease on life!
Birmingham Young, an American leader and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death, rightly stated, "You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation."
As I looked into Saira's eyes after her pronouncement on her career, her next question pierced my heart, "I can go to the Police Department can I not, if I study lots and lots?"
The above writer, Yasmeen Ali, is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @yasmeen_9