Peshawar: In Pakistan, even for the few women who reach the highest pinnacles of academia, workplace discrimination holds them back despite the enlightenment and social justice promoted by universities.

As students advance through formal schooling, girls and women disappear from the classroom each year.  Even for those who graduate from college, official data shows that around eight in every ten females choose against higher education for predictable reasons. Women and girls discontinue their education due to cultural barriers like not being able to commute to school, perceptions about a mixed gender academic environment, lack of finances, family and social pressures and, traditional gender roles expectations.

A local private college principle Shabana, whose name has been changed to protect identity, from Peshawar told Truth Tracker that women like her face many challenges at the time of enrollment particularly in University. One of her classmate in college was interested to continue her studies but her family decided that she should get married instead. “In my case my mother was worried, asking me a question again and again about going to the university, “how I will go to University daily in this congested traffic,” she said.”

Despite a massive investment by government of Pakistan in girls’ education over the last ten years, Pakistan is missing out on the huge contribution that educated women can make to our national economy. Data from the Bureau of Statistics shows that it spends only about two per cent of the national gross domestic product on education, a figure that has only gone up only half a percentage point in 10 years despite promises for free education for all.

According to higher education commission data, more men than women enroll in institutions of higher education each year. Eleven out of twenty enrolled students are male and 9 female, a ratio that has barely moved in the last 10 years. This is despite the fact that three times more students attend university now as they did a decade ago. Note that men far outnumber women in higher education faculty positions and are responsible for making decisions for the students to accept.  The state does not have a legal mechanism in place to provide a space for female students and protect them from a discriminatory male-dominated, non-transparent selection processes in both private and public institutions. In general, the more education that women receive, the more likely they are to earn income and have equal power within the family. However, women are often barred from this opportunity at the highest level of academia.

Shabana explained that despite having a leadership position in the college, all decisions are made by a male principal and she is discouraged from questioning his decisions.

It is still a long, hard road for women to get educated in Pakistan

Despite growing political acceptance of the value of educating girls, social, cultural and economic reasons continue to pick off female students each year. Our research on data of Pakistan Education Statistics 2015-16 shows equal numbers of girls and boys enrolled in primary school. Further research on data find that huge numbers of females quitting school. For instance in every ten female students, only two continue on to higher education.

Ayesha Ikram Director Media and Communication, HEC told Truth Tracker that as a result of higher education reforms and enhanced facilities and increased seats in universities, the latest figures place 52 percent males and 47 percent females in institutions of higher learning. That means out of every 20 students, 11 are male and 9 female.

In general fewer students, either male or female, pursue a university degree. 2015-16 Education Statistics points to a huge gap between primary and higher education enrollment. A very huge number of both male and female students discontinue their education and the drop out increases at different levels of their education. The enrollment figures of primary education across Pakistan were around 18.7 million in 2015-16 yet only 6.4 million enrolled in middle education. Further the results are perturbing, for instance, in high education 3.4 million, secondary education 1.6 million and higher education 187000 enrollments were recorded in the same year.

Ayesha explained that admissions decisions are made on merit and neither boys nor girls are given preferential admissions. It is their prerogative to seek admission.

Anum, Student of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan and Zeenat Khan, Student of University of Peshawar, told Truth Tracker that without family support they couldn’t reach higher education. We observe that most of females drop pursuing university education, sometimes in the middle of their degree programmes, due to family restrictions despite the many academic opportunities for females.

Even for women with an education, it is difficult to pursue a career no matter where she lives

Pakistan is the second worst country out of total 144 countries for women to get jobs.

Gender discrimination remains strong in labour market, bureau of statistics data shows that in every 10 workers 8 are male and 2 female. Where economic prosperity seems to open an opportunity for greater female participation in the work force, most of women with comparable experience and skills aren’t hired because of the attitudes towards women in the workplace.  The Bureau of statistics data shows that Punjab has the highest rate of people in the country and for women in the labour economy.  Sindh has the lowest rate of women in the labour market followed by KP.

The majority of women who do work are in low paid, unskilled jobs. The data shows that of the majority of employed women work in agriculture and other outdoors jobs, which are often poorly paid and reserved for the less educated and semi-skilled personnel. Data of Labour Force Survey 2014-15 shows that a man is 9 times more likely to be a manager than a woman.

In 2015, the IT ministry of Pakistan launched ‘ICTs for Girls’ project in collaboration with Microsoft to ensure girls get quality education that meets the market demand. They committed to training over 110,000 girls per year in the different girls institutes in Islamabad. They aim was to increase employment opportunities for women in the tech industry but the impact has yet to reflect in hiring trends.

Female academics still face persistent gender discrimination in universities

If the experience of female academics is any indication, educating girls may not be enough to change patterns of workplace discrimination. A local journal research paper of Sindh University conducted a survey in 2015 with female students and female teachers of University of Karachi, University of Sindh Jamshoro, and Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur. Researchers interviewed 1,000 female students and 343 female teaching staff. Research outcomes depict that in “higher educational institutions women faced discrimination, harassment and discouragement by their male counterparts. The major hindrance in the access of higher education to women was the male dominated society”.

Further research paper of Sindh University shows that women face regular discrimination in academia, which hinders their careers. For instance, of every 10 female students, 7 agree that females have fewer opportunities in higher education while 6 in every 10 female teachers of different universities also agreed.

Ayesha said an isolated study is not reflective of a particular trend and that opportunities are ample and equal for girls and boys. She did not have supporting data to demonstrate gender equality among university faculty.

Women surveyed said they did not have the freedom to assert their opinions about discrimination or other high-level academic decisions. Seven out of ten student and six out of ten teachers agree women are not empowered and have no freedom of expression to share suggestions or opinions. Further a question about the leadership responsibility in higher education shows that seven students and five teachers of ten agree that women have no leadership responsibility in higher education. With a vacuum in female leadership in academia, women aspiring for higher education have few champions.

Forging a new path to gender equality through education

Baela Raza Jamil, Director ASER Pakistan, said that establishing more institutes and providing facilities and security can enable increased female participation in education and the labour market. She views that the current structure of education has depressed opportunities for females and requires re-structuring. The Sindh university study recommendations included raising the faculty job and enrollment quota for women in higher educational institutions, opening more colleges and universities in rural areas for women and as an overarching goal, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

Syeda Hina Batool, Islamabad based Master Trainer and Educationist told Truth Tracker that without such awareness and promoting of girls education we cannot overcome the current trend of challenges for women in and during education. More support from our own houses and families should be need to focus on women’s education and labour market participation for better economic development in our country.

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