By Zeeshan Rasool Khan
During our school days, we have been taught much about importance of girl education .I remember, writing essay on it .Though a lot of work has been done to create awareness among people regarding the importance of girl education, it still is a challenge. A child without an education is still much more likely to be a girl than a boy. As per reports, there are 58 million girls worldwide who are not in school. South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, and Pakistan and so on have the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world. According to the 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program, approximately twice as many males as females receive a secondary education in Pakistan and India too lags behind as far as girl education is concerned. Once, the international community promised that by 2005 there would be equal number of boys and girls in school but later, after taking stock of developments, the leaders from around the world admitted that they failed to keep this promise.
The million dollar question is why this goal couldn’t be achieved? Is there any obstacle in between? What circumstances stop us from educating girls?
It has been analyzed that few challenges make it difficult for girls to access education. These include: the cost of education, poor school environments, position of women in society, social exclusion and, last but not the least, myths.
As far as the first challenge is concerned, the governments of the subcontinent especially India and Pakistan have somehow managed to ensure free education to children (including both boys and girls) belonging to marginalized sects. Schemes like the Midday Meal Scheme, RMSA, SSA and Educational Endowment Fund, Educational Voucher Scheme and so on in India and Pakistan respectively aimed at providing benefit to children belonging to less affluent and underprivileged areas , who otherwise cannot have access to quality education due to financial and social constraints. Poor school environment is a serious concern which has added gravity to this challenge. A school environment that may be acceptable to boys may be hostile to girls. The physical and sexual violence against women that is common in many societies is reflected in the school environment in a number of countries. Physical abuse and abduction are not only a major violation of girls’ basic human rights; they also present a major practical constraint in getting to school. Parents feel a duty to protect their daughters and may decide to keep them at home if they feel the school is too far away .This problem demands to be addressed but unfortunately nothing substantive has been done in ensuring safe school environment for girls.
The next challenge is the “weak position of women in society”. Within communities, girls have to overcome many obstacles. In countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and in rural areas of India , girls are married before their 18th birthday adding to her responsibilities at a tender age, resulting in girls halting their education. Extra domestic responsibilities also compel girls to leave studies.
Another impediment is “social exclusion”. Certain groups of girls are more likely to be excluded from school on the basis of caste, ethnicity, religion or disability. In Nepal, Dalit girls are almost twice as likely to be excluded from school as higher caste girls. In Malawi, Muslim girls are more likely to be excluded than their non-Muslim counterparts. Disabled children, and among them disabled girls in particular, constitute a significant group that is denied access to education. However, fortuitously 92 countries and 25 International organizations have committed themselves to providing educational opportunities for disabled people, especially girls in different parts of world .In India, government in association with NGO’s is operational to address social exclusion through SSA scheme (Education for All) plan.
The last factor is the myth that religions prohibit girl education. Though this trend has changed to a large extent, yet girl is not allowed to have same kind of education as her brother. Boys are allowed to join institutes of their choice but girls are restricted to homes. Some Hindus even consider girls incapable of studying Veda. Islamic ideologues mostly focus on imparting religious education to girls and not on contemporary education. Some Muslims and Hindus as well, believe learning of domestic skills from mother is sufficient for girl and don’t think of sending girls to school despite the fact that there is no gender disparity in education in any religion. The Holy Qur’an states: Say: ‘Can those who have knowledge and those who do not be alike?’ So, only the wise do receive the admonition. [Al-Zumar, 39:9.] . «So only those of His servants who have knowledge (of these realities with a vision and outlook) fear Him. Surely, Allah is Almighty, Most Forgiving. [Fatir, 35:28.]
It is evident from above verses that Knowledge is neither gender specific not it is confined to religious knowledge and the importance of Knowledge has not been restricted within the purview of men by Almighty God, but we persevere in creating them ourselves? A number of Prophetic traditions also talk directly about knowledge being obligatory and binding in character.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims (both men and women without any discrimination). [Ibn Maja in al-Sunan, 1:81.]. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) also said at another place: Acquire knowledge even if you may have to go to China for it. [Al-Bazaar, 1:175]. He (PBUH) said at another place: Allah Almighty makes the path to paradise easier for him who walks on it for getting knowledge. [Muslim in al-Sahih, 4:2074.] . Some fear education empowers women and empowering perhaps means to make woman able to overpower a man which is a wrong opinion. Some believe school going would impact her duties at home, they are also wrong, because girls have already proved their worth in all walks of life. Thus , we need to be factual and objective, not mythical and must realize the importance of girl education.
Girls are an indispensible part of our lives. As a mother, she is the first tutor of child and can brighten the future of nation by good upbringing of her child. Educated mothers can keep hunger away; mother’s education improves children’s nutrition. Education is vital to eliminate malnutrition in the long term – especially education that empowers women. According to UNESCO reports, mothers having education ,at least up to primary or secondary level can play role in minimizing child deaths saving 3 million lives as malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than a third of global child deaths. Educated mothers are more, likely to ensure that their children receive the best nutrients to help them prevent or fight off ill health. They know more about appropriate health and hygiene practices, and have more power in the home to make sure children’s nutrition needs are met.
Further, educated girls are less likely to die in child-birth thus 98000 lives can be saved. As a sister and wife, a woman has a central role in family. When she would be educated; there would significant amount of positive changes within every home and thus in society. In fact, education enables individuals to function effectively in a range of adult roles, including that of a worker, household provider, parent, spouse, family caretaker, citizen, and community participant. It is proven fact Girl education is a remarkably effective catalyst for social and economic growth in developing countries and has an overall huge impact on all of society. Let’s bid adieu to our negative thoughts and stereotypes and strive jointly to achieve gender parity in education, in which the progress, prosperity of society and nation lies.
—The author works in the education department. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org