Dawn News

Voices from the debris

If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation’ is an African Proverb which is reiterated by many dignitaries since it was first articulated by Dr James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey, a Ghanian scholar.

It is easy to repeat these words in front of an audience, however, the true wisdom hidden in these words is evidently misconstrued by many people in Pakistan, especially a particular religious cleric, representing a mosque located in one of the chicest areas of Karachi, who during the Friday prayers sermon, conveniently chants that the primary reason why the Muslim world is supposedly headed towards a rampant decline is because “Muslims have become beghairats (people who lack self-esteem) as they send their daughters abroad to acquire education and invite ‘God’s wrath’.

Whether the act itself ignited God’s wrath or not, these words shook me to the core. But again, may be I should not have been surprised at this, seeing how girls’ schools are being shut down and bombed by the dozen in Pakistan.

Whilst talking to an acquaintance, who works as the District Programme Manager for an organisation working for women empowerment and female education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, my worst fears were reaffirmed.

“Every single person is scared of sending their girls to school. Most girls are threatened to get abducted or killed on their way to schools, and are told that they become ‘obscene’ and ‘evil’ by attending school, ” said Sakhi Muhammad Jan

He narrated the story of a female teacher who taught at a school located in Pir Sabaq, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was threatened because she was influencing the girls negatively by ‘teaching’ them to become good citizens of the society.

“The school had to be closed down for a fortnight because the threats were getting dangerous by the day and we did not want to risk the safety of the female students and teachers,” added Jan.

Motivating and inducting female teachers has become a battle in itself as the situation is deteriorating; the prospect for these girls looks more dreadful than ever.

Whether the reason for keeping women away from education is a lack of resources or prejudice against liberating the ‘fair sex’, the consequences of keeping a fairly large chunk of the female population illiterate, are detrimental to the psychological and physical growth of this nation. Women, who are known to lay the fundamentals of any society, need equal, if not more, education than men because it is them that sensitises their children in formulating the society they live in – a place which could become a realm of equality and tolerance, if education is promoted. Hence, it is indispensable to educate women.

However, as much as I hate to admit it, the male-dominated stance on education in the Pakistani society is vastly prevalent. And it would not be completely incorrect to say that women themselves have also played a pivotal role in the establishment of such a biased and unruly society. The reason I say this is mainly because of the fact that every barbaric act perpetrated towards women is committed with the help of a ‘female accomplice’. Whether its ‘forbidding’ girls to attend schools or acts of ‘domestic violence’, women have assisted men in building a society which does not serve as a safe haven for women. Perhaps these acts are motivated by vengeance by women who once put up with by being deprived of their basic rights when they were young themselves.

The lack of education amongst the female populace of Pakistan is perhaps one of the many reasons why women have submitted to the system as being dysfunctional because fighting back has never been an option. The fact that most of the girls in Pakistan, including the educated community, are brought up and taught to accept the ‘decorum’ of being dutiful wives and daughters, regardless of the treatment they receive from the reciprocating end, is quite distressing. And the boys are almost never instilled with the same set of practises. Is it not equally important for a man to be a dutiful husband and an obliging son?

However, the most important question, and one that needs an immediate answer, is why are women in our society kept away from education? Is it because empowering women will jeopardise the centuries old tradition that women are weaker than men and are not to be treated on the same footing? Or is it because our society is afraid of change?

In either scenario, it is time for women to stand up and combat the traditions and regimes that have chained them for ages. It is relatively easier to become a victim; raising your voice is one of the most difficult feats in our society, however, now more than ever, the time has come to take the road less travelled. It is time to pick the difficult way out.

Women, who fight against all adversities and refuse to become a victim are agents of change who have been amiss for so long. It is their time to bring about a revolution that will challenge, if not change, the status quo.


The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com

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Comments (7) Closed

Feb 13, 2012 02:30pm
I think there are multiple reasons why women suffer more when it comes to education. I think the major issue is that our education system in any case does not reach most of our talent pool. Boys and girls alike are not getting access to education. Secondly, the need of the hour is around making ends meet therefore everyone has to work to live the next day, so when the issue is about survival then education comes way down on the survival kit. Then we have issues of this psychology built over centuries that women does not need to go out of the house therefore cutting back the need to get them education. On this we add the mentality of woman being a weaker gender and man being the leader of the house. This issue needs to be tackled on multiple levels and only then i think we may see some light at the end of the tunnle.
Feb 13, 2012 03:18pm
Madam well said and well written, hits on modern time conflicts within Islamic world. If the women were given educational power and equal rights then the situation of world would be different as what it is today. It is awful to hear that women in UAE are still not allowed to drive. Forcibly (spiritually, socially & physically) follow old traditions like Burka. Which is not allowed in islam, chauwder or hijab was allowed, the misinterpretation of locals mullah’s has made tough for average women to compete. The muslim women lacks far behind in sports, education and health compering other religion practising women folks according to UN.
Feb 13, 2012 04:57pm
The saddest reality of this society is that women are their very own exploiters. Though the accounts enlightens with the sorry state of affiars in the under-developed setups, the urban centres of Pakistan are no less different. At one point we are all in for women liberation but would rather not let go off our comfort zones and get down to do something of substance for this country or for ourselves. for that matter. The fact is we dont WANT to. So why complain about patriarchy when all we do is give it a boost by our very own attitudes?
Suhail Yusuf
Feb 13, 2012 05:20pm
A fine article written with flow and craft. I think Pakistan is the worst country in women rights situation. The situation will change if the educated men come forward and decided to change the mindset and practices for a woman who is suffering from many sides.
Nasser Ali Khan
Feb 14, 2012 05:17am
You may blame men for all you want. I personally would blame the women the most. Men take advantage when women are weak, and to expect them to change is unrealistic. It is the disadvantaged who have all the incentive to fight back. If they don't, it would be their fault, pure & simple.
Sohail Qasim
Feb 14, 2012 09:11am
I support educating women wholeheartedly. However, I can't support the thoughtless narration of ideas wrought from the western hype about women's liberation and emancipation. It does not take into account the social and economic factors that would be impacted in a paternalistic society already reeling from high unemployment. For example, if you have fewer jobs than the number of people looking for work you are bound to have unemployment. Now add a new segment of the population to this pool of unemployed and what do you get? A strong movement towards anarchy and chaos. On top of this you add the social freedoms required to intellectually mobilizing half of the national population and what do you get? Even more holes in the moral fabric than what we already have. So, add these two together and what do you get? A crisis of values we hold, or should hold, dear as Muslims, and as human beings. Why can't we apply our intelligence to building our society based on its strengths? If, the male population is more educated, create opportunities for them to excel. The society will reach a point at some point in time when the demand for educated workforce will grow beyond the supply. That will be the time to reignite this topic. Till then the author should read, and understand, the history of the suffragette movement and why - and WHEN - the women were allowed entry into the mainstream society in the western world. Perhaps then the author will be able to inject some common sense into her arguments instead of just sounding like a mouth piece for those bent on warping the Muslim thinking so they can be subjugated. But I don’t want to make this a political discussion. I just want this to be a fair discussion.
Feb 14, 2012 06:25pm
Thats called putting the things in right perspective...