Lacking investment, women’s education in Pakistan
For many going on for higher education is the expectation. It is hard to think of education being a privilege as
opposed to a right but for many especially the girl children, schooling can take a back burner to economic hardships, familial obligations and traditional South Asian culture. In some cases, the education of brothers came first. The priority of boy children’s education can be attributed to a number of things, a culture which puts more stock in men providing for their families, women’s education being seen as unnecessary, and marriage being more of a concern than education.
“My parents saved up money for my wedding and not for my studying,” said Alia Husnain, “when I did not get married and I had turned 24 my parents finally relented into letting me use some of that money towards getting my Bachelors. I still have to hear about what a waste it is even though I graduated nearly 3 years ago.”
Others were told they could study “after marriage,” because the money was not there for them now but would be in their married homes.
“I was told I would get to go back, in fact, my husband’s parents said it would be taken care of no problem,” said Sarah*, “but we all know what happened, I moved in and my plans to go to university were seen as scandalous. They pretended we never had an agreement.”
Oraan spoke with women who shared their experiences of being able to pursue education specifically because being a girl meant their education was not as highly valued as the education of their male siblings.
Saneela* shared with us about wanting to pursue a degree in law but being told by her parents that if she wanted to have her education paid for she would have to follow the path they wanted for her, medicine. The promised to pay for whatever college she got in that was her top choice.
“Because of this I was okay with abandoning law but then my brother was moving abroad and he needed money so he asked my father to give him the money he was saving for my education,” said Saneela. “My father thought he’s a son he'll earn and will support us to why not give him that money.”
Saneela went to a public college and got a degree in pharmacology, while her brother “wasted away” the money and has returned home jobless.
“Now I'm the one who's supposed to work hard and support my family financially. Not that I don't want to but I didn't ask for this. Now my father thinks I'm their savior and he's ready to invest in me when we've nothing left,” said Saneela.
“He finally saw me but at what cost? I can't stop being bitter about this one thing that he never thought I was deserving of that money. They put all their hopes in their sons and expect us to make things better with zero resources.”
Amena* who through her own grit and perseverance now has a successful freelance career, had a similar tale.
“I was told I couldn’t borrow my uncle's credit card for SATs because my parents were saving a chunk of their savings to put my brother through an international university on the off chance he chose to apply,” shared Amena*.
“I wasn't allowed to apply even though my grades were better and he was, bluntly put, an academic dunce.”
Amena was not alone in this experience, Mahnoor also shared that her parents were putting her brother’s education over hers.
“My parents are spending all their savings on my brother’s masters abroad while I was the one crying for it for 3 years,” she said. “I understand at my time to go financial we had troubles but when they were resolved I wasn’t even considered. We don’t get along so it stings even more.”
For Pakistan’s women trends have gone up seeing higher enrolment in education year after year, but the support they get continues to be a problem. Some women reported being barred from applying for scholarships, others who got admission were forced to un-enroll because the money spent was not seen worth it.
“Even if you believe the trend is changing, there still is this mindset of not investing in daughters. Better education leads to better opportunities in life,” said Saneela. “Women from such backgrounds that lack in so many areas things are tougher. Applying for a scholarships is very easy but for them it's not. Those women who are supported financially have a better chance at living a successful life.”
*Names have been changed