The literacy injustice:
Research Intern 2019
Amna is a student of Bachelor’s in Economics (finance track) at New York University
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Education is thought of as an utmost fundamental human right. Every child should be educated, regardless of gender, race, religion, economic, or social status. In developed societies, the role of education is rarely questioned, however, when it comes to the marginalized community, access to education for women is considered as a waste and is often ignored. This situation report examines the lack of education for women in Pakistan and how it leads to unfair treatment to womenfolk. The study discusses various dimensions surrounding women and how lack of education hinders the process
In Pakistan, females constitute 48.6% of the total population (World Bank, 2017), unfortunately, female literacy is 48% compared to 70% of the male population (Pakistan Economic Survey, 2018). This disparity in the statistics is not a figure rather it reflects the prevailing culture and the dominant mindset of Pakistan. Men are considered as the sole breadwinner of the house and they support their families. Women, on the other hand, have a fixed role in society to marry and raise a family. Apart from having unfair expectations from men, this mindset also hinders the chances of women acquiring education. Since there is no financial benefit seen in educating a woman, some families choose not to put any effort into educating females at all. This is one of the major causes of the disproportionate ratio of male and female education in Pakistan.
The first hindrance in female literacy is the association of education with monetary benefits. Employment and earning should not be the only incentive for educating a child. Education is not only important because it gives academic knowledge, but it also provides exposure, confidence, and critical thinking to the receiver. It is necessary for an individual’s personal growth. Education aware an individual, particularly females of their rights as a citizen. Issues ranging from child marriages and female genital mutilation to unequal political representation have their solution lying in making women aware of what they deserve and should have access to. One of the reasons that marginalized segments of a society remain sidelined is that they are not even cognizant of what their rights are. One will always feel inferior if they are treated low unless they are told otherwise. The notion of questioning what you are told and challenging the status quo comes from curiosity and that curiosity develops with education.
Not a day goes by when cases about domestic violence are not flashed on the news. Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act was only passed in 2012 and the statistics from the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) show that 3,860 women sought assistance for domestic violence in 2018 (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 2018). If you add instances from other provinces too, these numbers rise exponentially.
Patriarchy is the main reason that these domestic abuse cases continue to rise. Most men think that women are inferior-beings who have no other purpose than to serve men, which permits men to beat women if they fail to complete a task given at hand or comply with the rules they have set for women. Women, on the other hand, have also accepted this as a way of life. They have seen other women being dealt with like this and it has become a norm for them. It is not just men of the family that carry out domestic violence, but women have an equal role to play in it as well. There are multiple cases of domestic violence and honor killings conducted by women.
The fact that the domestic violence bill was just passed in 2012 shows how this was not even considered a criminal offense until recently. Before this, no one was held accountable for the abuse that was conducted within homes. Similarly, the fact that honor killings and acid attacks still remain prevalent in Pakistan is not only because of how inefficient the legal system is but also because it is not seen as a problem. Marrying someone of your own choice seems like enough reason to kill someone. People think it is their right to make decisions about the lives of others, especially if it is a woman. When our positions in society become hierarchical, the concept of ownership follows and so does abuse.
Something as simple as not being beaten up at home seems like a luxury. Women choose to be in abusive relationships just because they are told there is no other way. They do not question it either because they do not have the resources to. They were never educated about finding alternative means. Even if they want to step out, there is nowhere to go. No education or training means that they are not able to seek employment. They cannot support themselves if left on their own and so, for means of sustenance, they stay.
In order to bring out women’s issues in the public and actively solve them, both social and political activism is necessary. However, we notice women barely participate in the political process. Political representation does not only consist of competing in the elections and getting elected. It also involves women stepping out of their homes and voting. Due to lack of education and awareness among women, the importance of political participation is not understood. It is one of the things that is left for the males of the family. The more women are educated, the more aware they will be of their political rights. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), women voter turnout in the 2018 general elections stood at 40% with 21 of 46 million registered women voters participating in polling (Zafar, 2018). In addition, more than half of the women in Pakistan are not even registered to vote. This means that less than a quarter of the female population of Pakistan is exercising their right to vote.
Apart from the lack of education, there are other factors that affect this minimal representation of women in the political sphere. Villages such as Dhurnal have had a self-imposed ban on women voting since the 1960s and questioning that ban means being shunned away from society. The village of Jahan Khan also imposes this ban. Joyas, the dominant caste in the village, takes pride in the piousness of their women. Stepping out of the house to vote is seen as a disgrace to the family and its honor. Additionally, women also fear being touched and harassed in public spaces which results in them staying at home. Since women do not step out to vote, candidates do not even consider seeking their votes or work on mandates that would deal with women’s issues.
As important as it is to increase the political participation of women, it is not wrong to say that we have come a long way. A lot of affirmative actions have taken place to encourage women to make their voices heard. This change can be attributed to a number of factors, such as Pakistan’s legal commitments to the international community which includes the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (Awan, 2018). Additionally, the Election Commission (EC) Order of 2002 allocates reserved seats to women and non-Muslims in the National and Provincial Assembly. The Elections Act of 2017 mandates to nullify the votes of any constituency where women’s turnout is equal to or less than 10 percent. It criminalizes anyone who hinders a woman from voting or competing in an election and also requires all political parties to list female candidates in at least 5 percent of their non-reserved national and political assembly seats. The Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also promoted women-only polling stations with female staff to encourage voter turnout in more conservative parts of the country.
Gender Wage Gap
The gender pay gap is a real thing in Pakistan. Our women account for almost 90 percent of wage earners in the bottom 1 percent and just 9 percent in the top 1 percent (International Labor Organization, 2018). This means that among all the people who have the lowest wage in Pakistan 90 percent are women and 10 percent are men. The West Pakistan Minimum Wage Rules of 1962 clearly states that that rates of wages will be set equally for both male and female workers for work of equal value, but the statistics show a different picture.
There are several reasons that this wage gap may exist in Pakistan. The most important reason again is the lack of education and exposure. Women make up a majority of our unskilled workforce. There are very few women who pursue higher education, are trained in what they do, and employed at the higher ranks of the social ladder.
Additionally, Pakistan has the highest median gender pay gap in the world of 62.5 percent (International Labor Organization, 2018). Due to the disproportionate education opportunities, it is only natural that a gender pay gap exists. However, even then, such extreme statistics do not make sense. Another thing that might add to the wage gap is women being paid less for the same work they do as men. In our society, it is assumed that women are on a clock and their time is ticking. It is only until they get married and involved with families that they are able to work at their full capacity. Afterward, they have other commitments and their work is not prioritized. This notion is further strengthened by the ‘motherhood penalty’ as working mothers are paid less than childless mothers.
In Pakistan, every man and woman are equal before the law and hence, the constitution of Pakistan should safeguard the right to equal pay for equal work. Acts such as the Minimum Wage Rule should be actively implemented and people/institutions not adhering to this law should be punished severely.
Property rights are the theoretical and legal ownership of tangible and intangible resources and how they are used including land, buildings, livestock, and money. According to the World Bank, women in half the world are still denied land and property rights despite the existence of laws. This situation also applies to Pakistan. Women do not own property because men usually make all the financial dealings. Since they are the ones running the household, it is only natural for them to own all the property.
Property rights and the ability to exercise them are the foundation of income and security for a human being. They increase the bargaining power of an individual both inside and outside the household and add value to what they say. Allowing women to exercise their property rights is not just fair but also necessary for the economic development of Pakistan. Otherwise, the people who make up half of our population will remain underemployed and impoverished.
Our social norms and religious traditions stand between women and exercising their property rights. Again, lack of education hinders women from fighting for their rights primarily because they are not aware of their rights. Additionally, these self-imposed gender roles decide what one should and should not do. We let our biological differences be enough reason to limit our freedom. Disproportionate inheritance laws may also be a contributing factor to women owning less property in Pakistan. In order to empower our women economically, it is essential for them to own property, work, and make money for themselves. Additionally, this would be very beneficial for poverty reduction and economic growth of Pakistan.
Women in Pakistan are deprived of basic healthcare. There is a direct link between the health statuses of women and women’s low societal standing in Pakistan. This correlation is highlighted by a United Nations Report released in 2018 on women’s health. According to the report, 48.1 percent of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 years in Pakistan do not have any say in the decisions regarding their own healthcare. These rates may change with a change in location, wealth and ethnicity. For example, 52.5 percent of women in rural areas lack participation in their health care decisions compared to 39.3 percent in urban areas.
The tribal concept of home deliveries is a major reason why patients remain undiagnosed of medical complications and later on suffer for the remainder of their lives. According to UNICEF, only 30 percent of deliveries in the poorest households of Pakistan had a skilled attendant at birth. Additionally, people are indifferent towards women’s health which is also why some women are not allowed to step out of their homes to go to health professionals. Women and girls are severely malnourished as there is gender discrimination in the distribution of household resources. Most people want their boys to grow strong and healthy so that they can support their parents in old age. Women are not given the power to decide the number of children they want to have. Appropriate family planning is not available either and women face complications due to frequent and high-risk pregnancies.
There is a lack of health professionals, especially in rural areas. There is low investment in the health sector which is not enough for our rapidly growing population. The government of Pakistan needs to initiate programs that work for the betterment of health care services, especially for women. Awareness campaigns should be held that talk about the importance of acquiring medical services when needed and a woman’s right to her own medical decisions. If Pakistan is even a little serious about achieving the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it needs to carry more efforts to improve the health of women.
It is a fact that women in Pakistan have an inferior social status than men. Women face many issues every day and most of them have their roots in their lack of education. As a society, we need to rethink our values and our priorities. We think it is our duty to assign rights to people at our own discretion. Those in power are happy with how things are running because it gives them a chance to exploit the marginalized for their personal/class gains. Those who are victimized feel it is better not to make their voices heard and they let their miseries go unnoticed. It is about time that we end this tyrannical circle and break the chains of oppression. Not just because it is unfair to categorize a gender as inferior but simply because it is unfair to categorize another human as inferior.
Our society cares more about marrying our daughters in the right family and making sure they have enough dowry, so they are respected by their in-laws. If there is one thing we should give our daughters, it is their right to be educated so that they can support themselves when needed. We should equip them with enough skills, so they do not feel trapped in certain situations. We should ensure that they are not dependent on others and give them enough support and confidence so that they can raise their voices when they are not treated fairly.
World Bank. Population, female (% of total). 2017. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.FE.ZS.
Pakistan Government Ministry of Finance. Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-2018. Chapter 10, Pg 153-163. http://www.finance.gov.pk/survey/chapters_18/10-Education.pdf
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. State of Human Rights in 2018. March 2019. http://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/State-of-Human-Rights-in-2018-English-1.pdf.
Zafar, Roshaneh. Beyond women voter turnout in elections. The Express Tribune. 11th September 2018. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1800497/1-beyond-women-voter-turnout-elections/.
Awan, Muhammad A. Political Participation of Women in Pakistan Historical and Political Dynamics Shaping the Structure of Politics for Women. July 2018. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326262517_Political_Participation_of_Women_in_Pakistan_Historical_and_Political_Dynamics_Shaping_the_Structure_of_Politics_for_Women.
International Labor Organization. Global Wage Report 2018/2019: What lies behind gender pay gaps. November 2018. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_650553.pdf.
Talpur, Murtaza. Women and Wages in Pakistan. Daily Times. 7th November 2017. https://dailytimes.com.pk/135254/women-wages-pakistan/.
World Bank. Women in Half the World Still Denied Land, Property Rights Despite Laws. 25th March 2019. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/03/25/women-in-half-the-world-still-denied-land-property-rights-despite-laws.
Paycheck. Property Rights of Men and Women. https://paycheck.pk/labour-laws/fair-treatment/property-rights/property-rights-in-pakistan.
Government of Punjab, Pakistan. The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women. Women’s Rights/Laws. https://pcsw.punjab.gov.pk/womens_rights.
Ilyas, Faiza. 48pc Pakistani women have no say in health matters: UN. Dawn. 15th February 2018. https://www.dawn.com/news/1389532.