Let me begin with an old African Proverb “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if educate a woman, you educate a whole family”. From our nursery days to our university days, we heard this proverb repeatedly from our teachers in our classrooms. As a girl, listening to this proverb would fill our hearts with joy and happiness. I grew up with a passion and dream like thousands of other girls to pursue my career in academia. This proverb would solace and comfort me because of the impression that the education of girls was valued and appreciated. But today as I look around and observe things minutely, all I am seeing is that women are missing from the forefront of the educational enterprise and other spheres of life. Not only is our passion to pursue a career in academia discouraged but simultaneously our dreams are made fun of! Our role remains confined within the four walls of our homes in general to kitchens in particular.
In a patriarchal and male-dominated society not only is our own agency of exercising our choice snatched from us but also our identity is reduced to mere sexual beings born to fulfill the desires of men. The education of a boy is still preferred over the education of a girl. The ambition of a boy to pursue a career in academia becomes a dream for the whole family, while the same dream of a girl is allowed to die a natural death. From inheritance rights to educational rights and from our presence in public space to our choice of marrying a boy of our choice( according to Quranic injunction), we are denied each and every right which otherwise we are entitled to enjoy. A prophetic saying mentioned and quoted often from the pulpits of mosques mentioned in all most all of the hadith books is “ The best gift from a father to his child is education”. Now let’s pause for a minute and ask ourselves do we provide this gift to a girl child? Our actions as Muslims not only give lie to our words but also do a great disservice to Islam as well.
Since the 7th century AD, women have proved their worth at every level. From politicians to scientists, from thinkers to public intellectuals, from war warriors on battlefields to being at the forefront of intellectual revolutions women have proved their intellectual acumen. The first university in the world was built by Fatima Al Fihri who was a woman. Muslim women in general and women, in particular, have made a huge contribution not only to the world of science, social sciences, and humanities but also to the world of politics. In science, we have examples of Aisha Elsafty, Madam Curie and Maryam Mirzakani (the only Muslim woman to win a Fields medal in Mathematics), in literature, we have examples of Arundhati Roy and Margaret Atwood and in politics, we have examples of Benazir Bhutoo and Angela Merkel. Despite these figures, our representation is not only dwindling in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) but also in other disciplines like humanities and social sciences. As against 465 male MPs, we have only 78 women MPs in Lok Sabha despite women making up half of the Indian population. The representation of women in Indian bureaucracy or at our own state level is abysmally low. The birth of a girl child is still abhorred in our society as against the birth of a male child.
Now coming to the statistics it can be seen that improving girl’s educational level over the years and decades have clearly made huge impacts on the health and economic future of young women, which in turn have significantly improved not only the prospects in their individual life or their family but of societies and communities in particular and nations in general. Education also plays a vital and crucial role in creating, reproductive, social, political, social and health awareness among women. Education also goes a long way in curbing the menace of population growth and leads to faster development as is evident in western countries. So let’s allow women to reclaim their space and identity for their progress, empowerment, and their own emancipation through the tool of education.
Mir Faiqa Sajad is a student. Feedback at [email protected]