‘If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation’ is an African Proverb which is reiterated by many dignitaries since it was first articulated by Dr James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey, a Ghanian scholar.
It is easy to repeat these words in front of an audience, however, the true wisdom hidden in these words is evidently misconstrued by many people in Pakistan, especially a particular religious cleric, representing a mosque located in one of the chicest areas of Karachi, who during the Friday prayers sermon, conveniently chants that the primary reason why the Muslim world is supposedly headed towards a rampant decline is because “Muslims have become beghairats (people who lack self-esteem) as they send their daughters abroad to acquire education and invite ‘God’s wrath’.
Whether the act itself ignited God’s wrath or not, these words shook me to the core. But again, may be I should not have been surprised at this, seeing how girls’ schools are being shut down and bombed by the dozen in Pakistan.
Whilst talking to an acquaintance, who works as the District Programme Manager for an organisation working for women empowerment and female education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, my worst fears were reaffirmed.
“Every single person is scared of sending their girls to school. Most girls are threatened to get abducted or killed on their way to schools, and are told that they become ‘obscene’ and ‘evil’ by attending school, ” said Sakhi Muhammad Jan
He narrated the story of a female teacher who taught at a school located in Pir Sabaq, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was threatened because she was influencing the girls negatively by ‘teaching’ them to become good citizens of the society.
“The school had to be closed down for a fortnight because the threats were getting dangerous by the day and we did not want to risk the safety of the female students and teachers,” added Jan.
Motivating and inducting female teachers has become a battle in itself as the situation is deteriorating; the prospect for these girls looks more dreadful than ever.
Whether the reason for keeping women away from education is a lack of resources or prejudice against liberating the ‘fair sex’, the consequences of keeping a fairly large chunk of the female population illiterate, are detrimental to the psychological and physical growth of this nation. Women, who are known to lay the fundamentals of any society, need equal, if not more, education than men because it is them that sensitises their children in formulating the society they live in – a place which could become a realm of equality and tolerance, if education is promoted. Hence, it is indispensable to educate women.
However, as much as I hate to admit it, the male-dominated stance on education in the Pakistani society is vastly prevalent. And it would not be completely incorrect to say that women themselves have also played a pivotal role in the establishment of such a biased and unruly society. The reason I say this is mainly because of the fact that every barbaric act perpetrated towards women is committed with the help of a ‘female accomplice’. Whether its ‘forbidding’ girls to attend schools or acts of ‘domestic violence’, women have assisted men in building a society which does not serve as a safe haven for women. Perhaps these acts are motivated by vengeance by women who once put up with by being deprived of their basic rights when they were young themselves.
The lack of education amongst the female populace of Pakistan is perhaps one of the many reasons why women have submitted to the system as being dysfunctional because fighting back has never been an option. The fact that most of the girls in Pakistan, including the educated community, are brought up and taught to accept the ‘decorum’ of being dutiful wives and daughters, regardless of the treatment they receive from the reciprocating end, is quite distressing. And the boys are almost never instilled with the same set of practises. Is it not equally important for a man to be a dutiful husband and an obliging son?
However, the most important question, and one that needs an immediate answer, is why are women in our society kept away from education? Is it because empowering women will jeopardise the centuries old tradition that women are weaker than men and are not to be treated on the same footing? Or is it because our society is afraid of change?
In either scenario, it is time for women to stand up and combat the traditions and regimes that have chained them for ages. It is relatively easier to become a victim; raising your voice is one of the most difficult feats in our society, however, now more than ever, the time has come to take the road less travelled. It is time to pick the difficult way out.
Women, who fight against all adversities and refuse to become a victim are agents of change who have been amiss for so long. It is their time to bring about a revolution that will challenge, if not change, the status quo.
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com