Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Women Education in Pakistan: Engendered Legacy

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Women Education in Pakistan: Engendered Legacy

Article excerpt


'Knowledge as power", has historically been a contested arena of engendered hierarchies. The sluggish waters of women education in Pakistan run deep and the formulation and execution of education policies at State level have been a classic case of "two steps forward one step back." Based on ideas developed during informal interviews with three human rights activists, this paper explores the question of female inequality in education. It argues that there is no coherence in the aspired educational goals and that State policies lack a clear vision for the future vis-à-vis women education. Both the public and private education systems in Pakistan consist of an array of educational institutions with divergent standards of instruction catering to the needs of different socio-economic groups. This scenario has created varied tiers of pedagogic hierarchies, and women are the worst victims.

Keywords: women education, education policies, educational apartheid


Women rights activists argue: "educational achievement and opportunities for women are effected by their lower status in social hierarchy" (Saigol, 2011). Historical legacies, language of instruction, financing, nationalist - religious agendas and gender role stereotypes embedded within the curriculum, interact to shape the educational environment (Lyon & Edgar, 2010). Historians have outlined the role of culture and civilization in fortifying public private boundaries, and relegating woman as 'others' within each tier of a caste system (Greer & Lewis, 2002). These findings are especially significant for Pakistan, a country having strong geohistorical links with ancient cultures and with a civilization possessing an entrenched caste system. Though Buddhism had risen against this apartheid, Brahmanism had almost obliterated it by the time Muslims ventured into the subcontinent and adjusted their outlook to the elements of local culture (Iqbal, 1996). Dynamics of women education in Pakistan, therefore, must be seen in the backdrop of its complicated conception in an era when the intensifying state of intellectual bankruptcy among Indian Muslims was culminating in the finale of Mughal rule. Poetry, a hallmark of intellectual expression, had become boldly women centric4 and poetic elegance a defining feature of courtesans, so shurfa5 women had to be kept 'pure'. British colonized India and English replaced Persian as official language (Rahman, 1999; 2004). Colonization subverted the socioeconomic hierarchy to the detriment of Muslims, who, now defeated and dispossessed, retreated to their private sphere and doubled its walls for the women. Saigol describing the melancholy of those times said: "For the disillusioned Indian Muslims, women became the repositories of a lost tradition that had to be defended at all costs."

Formal education in India was introduced by the British, but even Sir Syed, a great proponent of Muslim education, viewed female education with scepticism, albeit, by establishing Aligarh University, he had unwittingly set a ball rolling, when Aligarh graduates started looking for 'enlightened homely wives' (Ali, 2000). Saigol, shedding light on the literature written during that era, said: "Indian Muslim male writers glorified Muslim women's domestic role on the lines of Colonial Victorian values, juxtaposing characters of good and bad women like in the line of 'Eve versus Mary' phenomenon suggesting that in the same way as Queen Victoria ran England efficiently so Muslim women can run their homes with similar precision."

In a bid to protect their private 'kingdom of heaven' and after losing the empire in the public sphere, Muslims opened zenana schools as a parallel pedagogic system, emphasizing the teaching of religion, language and domestic sciences (Minnault, 1982). British educational system in India remained circumscribed by colonial compulsions. Thus, an educational apartheid6 became entrenched as its defining feature with "educational institutions reflecting a pedagogic caste system, in which children of elite classes studied in English schools totally oblivious of their cohorts in vernacular institutions and madrassas'7" (Rahman, 2004). …

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