Women form almost fifty percent of Pakistan’s 207 million population, yet 32 percent of primary school age girls, 59 percent of secondary age girls, and by the time we reach high school only 13 percent of girls are still in school. In addition to this is the prevalence of scale gender-biased textbooks across the country.
As a recent column in Dawn points out, gender bias is often overlooked. Thus, “content analyses of textbooks have shown that women occupy a subordinate status in society; their roles are insignificant and mostly limited to household chores.”
Considering that he government is seeking to develop a new uniform curriculum for the entire country, this appears to be the right time “to include unbiased, gender-inclusive text. It is necessary to create awareness and promote gender equality through content in the textbooks because they contribute to individual and collective identities and gender-sensitive values for future generations as students spend most of their time in classrooms reading textbooks.”
Young girls in Pakistan need female role models whom they can identify with. Yet, as Munaza Hasan points out, “if you pick up Urdu textbooks taught in government primary schools you will see that females are underrepresented and the roles assigned to them are insignificant ones. Professionally, women are only seen to fit the role of teachers, doctors or nurses whereas the options for men are endless.”
This conflicts with reality where “Pakistani women have climbed mountains literally and metaphorically.” In the field of science, Pakistan-born scientist Asifa Akhtar is the first international female vice president of the biology and medicine section at Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Society and Nergis Mavalvala, Pakistani-American astrophysicist, is the dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the field of sports, Samina Baig, a young mountaineer scaled Mount Everest and Sana Mir, is the former captain of Pakistan’s women cricket team that bagged two gold medals in the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014. In politics, the first woman to head a democratic Muslim majority country was Benazir Bhutto and the youngest Nobel Prize winner was Malala Yousafzai.
Finally, as the column in Dawn points out, “centuries-old traditions and cultural norms are not transformed overnight. Gender equality will help achieve a balance of power and control on the path of national progress.”