“Females cannot get higher education due to lack of facilities in our area,” says Marwa Bibi, a student of Grade 9 who lives in Adenzai tehsil of Lower Dir.
“My brothers are enrolled in a private school. Despite my desire to study with them, my parents have put me in a government-run school saying that sons financially support their parents in the future, but daughters cannot help their parents after getting married,” she adds.
“My parents’ concern for my education is significantly less than it is for my brothers.”
Marwa represents a patriarchal society which focuses on boys’ education, as men traditionally represent familial affiliation, while women join another family after marriage. According to social scientists, another major reason is the subsequent job and earning aspect where sons are expected to financially help their parents and girls hardly go to any professional field. Even if a woman gets a job, her family will not accept money from their daughter after she’s married.
Finding female staff to teach at high school level is another issue
Even so, Marwa is lucky to receive education in a region where the majority of women don’t have access to government-run, or private, schools for one reason or another. Her school is located at walking distance from her home. Geographical proximity has an effect on girls’ academic participation, causing gender disparity in her region.
The six-year records of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Malakand from 2010 through 2015 show clear gender discrimination, both in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSSC) exams. BISE Malakand, situated in Chakdara, Lower Dir, provides services to students appearing in SSC and HSSC exams. The Malakand Board has jurisdiction over the district areas of Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Malakand Agency and Bajaur Agency.
The statistics show that fewer girls appeared in Grade 10 examinations during last six years, as compared to boys. In 2010, 16,456 boys and 5,493 girls appeared in SSC exams. The girls were almost 65 % less than the boys, highlighting low literacy rate amongst females and gender discrimination in the region. In 2015, 22,270 boys and 8,616 girls appeared in the SSC exams. The difference between girls and boys enrollment is constant throughout this period. Although from 2010 through 2015, the number of students enrolled in high schools has increased but gender disparity remains unchanged.
When it comes to private schools the enrolments of girls is very low as compare to boys. In 2010, 3,279 boys and 585 girls appeared in SSC exam. Five years later, the number of boys reached 5,581 compared to 1,146 girls that appeared from private schools.
According to available data, Lower Dir is leading the way with regards to female enrolments in private schools in the four territories that come under the jurisdiction of BISE Malakand. During the recently held SSC exams, 508 female students were enrolled from Lower Dir, 469 Malakand Agency, and 142 from Upper Dir.
The number of girls enrolled in government-run schools also indicates discrimination and highlights the fact that people don’t send their daughters to schools.
Sajid Hussain who runs a private school in Talash Lower Dir said: “Very few institutions in this region offer separate classes for men and women. Initially some girls are enrolled at private schools but after reaching Grade 5 the parents shift them to government schools. The word ‘coeducation’ is unacceptable in the conservative Pashtun society”. Hussain said that finding female staff to teach at high level is another issue.
The six-year record of students who appeared in HSSC exam from 2010 through 2015 shows blatant gender inequality. As compared to high schools the ratio of females in colleges is very low. Parents stop sending their girls to colleges, because either the institutions are located away from their villages or they cannot afford to pay for their daughters’ education.
Lower Dir is doing well in bridging the gender gap in education
The statistics show that almost 50% increase has been recorded both in male and female students, between the years 2010 and 2015, but the ratio of girls is comparatively low. In 2010, a total of 1,622 girls appeared in the Grade 12 exams while in the recently held examinations their number reached 2,812.
The statistics also show that parents are less interested in sending their daughters to private colleges as compared to their sons. In the recently held HSSC exam only 786 female students of private colleges appeared. The ratio of female students in Bajaur is very low, with 48 students taking the HSSC exams in both 2014 and 2015. Not a single female candidate was reported to have appeared in the examination from private colleges of Bajaur. Meanwhile, Lower Dir is doing well with regards to bridging the gender gap in education, while Bajaur Agency lags behind. All four districts share almost the same culture and tribes.
Female enrolment at Bajaur is very low since the whole tribal agency has a single Degree College for women, which is located in its headquarters, Khaar. The ratio of female students remains high at government institutions in Malakand Agency while more females are enrolled in Lower Dir private colleges. The situation in Upper Dir is comparatively better than Bajaur, but it still is not encouraging.
Muhammad Jamal, a resident of Kot village in Malakand Agency, said that after SSC many parents like him stopped their girls from further studies as they don’t have colleges near their villages and cannot afford sending their girls to other cities.
According to Salar Muhammad, a BISE Malakand official, “Girls often get better marks than boys in elementary and secondary schools. They usually clinch top spots in SSC and HSSC exam result; but as girls very rarely go on to work in the professional field, the parents’ focus remains on boys”.
Prof. Dr. Arab Naz, Chairman, Department of Social Sciences University of Malakand, said that lack of educational institutions, cultural bearers, religious extremism, insecurity, purdah system, male dominancy, social stigmas keep women away from education. “Even if girls have easy access to educational institutions, due to early marriages the majority of them quit their studies without completing their degrees,” he added.
According to Miss Shahida who teaches in high school in Chakdara, “Most girls don’t complete their degrees and get married even before passing the HSSC exam. As a girl grows up people start sending marriage proposals to her parents. The majority of girls get married before reaching 20”.
Muhammad Jalil, President Dir Union of Journalists, said that lack of educational facilities and poverty are the major causes behind low literacy rate in the region. “No social or cultural restrictions limit chances of girls education – it’s the lack of facilities. Even if a girl completes primary education in her village, she wouldn’t find middle or high schools near home. The parents cannot afford the transportation cost, which means that education for a village girl remains an improbable dream,” he said.
The provincial government has shown interest in establishing educational institutions for children, especially for girls on priority basis to help them meet future challenges.
“We are going to establish a network of educational institutions in the province. This year 70% of the development funds allocated for education would be spent on the construction of schools and colleges for girls,” said Muzafar Said, Provincial Minister for Finance who hails from Lower Dir.
He said due to cultural constraints people do not pay attention to women education in Bajaur, Malakand Upper and Lower Dir.
“A misconception has prevailed in the area for years that females become prone to Western culture if they get contemporary education. However, awareness is beginning to overcome such outdated ideas. I want to make it clear that Islam focuses both on male and female education without any discrimination,” asserted Said.
Dir and Malakand districts are faring comparatively better as compared to neighboring Bajaur Agency where female literacy rate is extremely low. According to data received from education department Bajaur, there is a single girls’ college in the entire tribal district. Until 2013 there were only two high schools for girls while six middle schools have been recently upgraded from middle to high. In Loye Mamond and Wara Mamond, two most populated tehsils of the agency, there is not a single high school for girls.
“Around 102 villages in Bajaur agency either lack boys’ primary schools or girls’ primary schools or both. Almost 64,000 students are out of school in Bajaur at the moment,” said an official of education department who wished anonymity.
Hanifullah Khan, a child rights activist in Bajaur said that the government has so far failed to reconstruct damaged schools in the tribal agency. The schools were damaged or destroyed during 2008?either by militants or during military operations. He also criticized the government for not providing proper staff to girls’ schools.
“The upgraded girls’ schools need staff, especially science teachers. Merely changing the status of schools would not benefit local female students,” he added.
Bismillah Khan who was elected thrice to the National Assembly said: “The ratio of female students in Bajaur is comparatively better than the rest of the tribal agencies”. He said almost 132 educational institutions have been damaged in the area causing illiteracy in Bajaur.
“I have always raised the issue of education on various platforms but the response of the government has been unsatisfactory. High literacy rate in tribal areas could ensure peace and prosperity in the region,” he said.