TERTIARY EDUCATION

Must for absolute women empowerment

By AKRAM KHATOON
Sep 06 - 12, 2004

The importance of human capital viz. education and skills has been recognized universally for speedy economic growth of a country. In context of low-income developing economies, the development of human capital has gained more importance as these countries have set priorities for eradicating or rather arresting growing poverty and combating all exploitations against disadvantaged segments of their population, which can be achieved only through sustained and speedy growth rate of their economies. Women and girl child are the two most neglected components of global population. Women comprise almost 60% of the world population living below poverty line. It is mainly lack of economic independence, entailing social exploitation of women in developing countries of South East Asia and Africa through ages-old savage customs and traditions engulfing womenfolk.

Women of Pakistan are in most pathetic condition regarding their socio-economic status, which is mainly due to their deprivation from decision making process in almost all phases of their life cycle, which in turn is the outcome of male dominant gender power relation. Women are not encouraged to express their opinion even in such personal matters like choosing life partner, family planning and inheritance of family property. In patriarchal social environment decision making remains a male prerogative.

The one sided, male dominant development thinking has resulted in grossly inadequate government's investment in human resources development of women and consequently women's basic needs remain unattended. Education has been rendered a vital and basic need for development of human resources and it's importance is reflected through article 37 (b) and (c) of Pakistan's Constitution of 1973, which conveys that "state shall remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education within the minimum possible period." The article 37 (c) stipulates that state shall "make technical education and professional education generally available, and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit".

For making primary education available to all, efforts are on since last mid-sixties. The military led regime of immediate past gave an ambitious target of providing primary education to all by year 2000, but emerging constraints due to political developments both within the country and across the border prevented government making sufficient budgetary allocations for education. Secondly, lack of sincere efforts on the part of lower echelons of bureaucracy/government functionaries impeded reaching the said target. However, the present government is sincerely striving to make primary education available to all by 2015 in compliance to recommendations of World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in 2000 which requires providing compulsory education to around 113 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 by 2015, who do not have access to education for one reason or other.

Government has taken initiatives to promote secondary and tertiary education also. In this regard special incentives are being provided to girls of secondary level schooling in public sector schools. Allowing stipend of Rs. 200/- per month to those who show 80% or more attendance is an step in the right direction to motivate poor families to continue the schooling of their daughters after primary level when education is no longer free. For promoting tertiary education among women, government's initiatives are visible in almost all the provinces. Women universities and exclusive women medical colleges have been set up to facilitate higher education for those girl students whose parents do not favor co-education. In medical and engineering colleges/universities and business schools with co-education arrangements entry is open to girl students strictly on merit and without any discrimination.

Some financial institutions including Institute of Bankers in Pakistan have opened doors to non-bankers for their advance education in banking programs without any gender discrimination. One of the foreign banks in collaboration with IBA Karachi is offering MBA degree program with major in banking, entry to which is strictly on merit, but it is open to all.

Investment in human capital in context of education of all level brings adequate personal and social return bill for men and women. A better-educated and trained work force deployed in a project would ensure higher operational efficiency of the project.

According to findings of a study conducted at De Beauk University of Brussels, investment in education in low income developing countries brings high returns as depicted from table given below:-

 

RATE OF PRIVATE RETURN

SOCIAL RATE OF RETURN

Primary education

28.4%

20.6%

Secondary education

18.5%

14.1%

Higher education

22.4%

11.3%

The above table depicts, that investments in education of all levels gives much higher return than investment in physical capital and the rate of return from the latter also depends on skills and expertise of human capital (man power) involved at different stages of a project, irrespective of the fact whether it is a commercial or non profit entity. Another finding of said study reveals that investment in girl child education yields especially high returns.

It is a globally recognized fact that women empowerment in absolute terms is the outcome of their economic independence/empowerment, which is facilitated through acquiring higher education, including technical and professional education. Higher technical and professional education makes possible women entry into specialized fields of finance, engineering, health, education and commerce and industry and then reaching senior management positions, where decision making rests.

It is unfortunate that overall literacy rate of the country is much lower even among developing countries and consequently female literacy rate in remote areas of Baluchistan and N.W.F.P is even less than 2%. No doubt under "Education For All" program special incentives are being offered to girls for motivating parents to send their daughters to school and also to curtail drop out rate at primary level, which is as high as 41%. However, in order to ensure success of all women welfare related initiatives of government, monitoring of these projects should be assigned to women only.

Women should be involved in decisions relating to legislation process, economy and social sector, so that it is ensured that laws passed in the assembly do not have adverse bearing on women.

For legislators in all tears of Assemblies and Senate, one of the eligibility criteria for contesting election is their holding Bachelor's degree in any discipline of education. Hence as result of government's endeavor to enhance women's participation in legislative process, sizable number of women has entered assemblies and Senate. However, to make their presence effective through advocacy, there is need to expose them to behavioral skill and offer development training program to develop assertiveness and self confidence among them, so that they may assert their point of view in assemblies especially regarding elimination of discriminatory laws and all exploitation against women.

Further, for ensuring women empowerment certain strategies need to be adopted at personal/individual level and some on national and international level.

At personal level, women need to know themselves their social, economic and political rights.

Each and every woman must strive to acquire higher education or proficiency in various business and behavioral skills so as to get themselves not only gainfully employed/self-employed but also to assert for level playing field for their working environments, enabling them to rise to senior echelon of management in any organization. In case of doing business they may emerge as a highly competitive entrepreneurs.

Advance religious education is an area of education which is commonly neglected by women, this should also be given priority, as discriminatory laws enforced against women, which are repugnant to Islamic teachings need to be identified.

Apart from efforts on personal level, initiative for women empowerment are also needed at national level. At the Government level, there should be arrangements for providing encouragement and incentives as well as counseling services for girls to study scientific, technical and managerial subjects at all levels in order to enhance the aptitude of women for decision making, management and leadership.

Further, system should be in place for making educational and vocational training accessible to women including those fields where technologies are improving rapidly like Information Technology (IT).

Recent thinking on the part of government about curtailing subsidized higher education needs to be discouraged from the very outset. Instead, women legislators must take up the issues in assemblies and demand more incentives for promoting higher and professional education among women.

In this regard NGOs role is of vital importance. Awareness regarding women's right to education in general and higher and professional education in particular and information regarding ways and means to facilitate acquiring education need to be disseminated through various NGOs.

No doubt, some of the credible NGOs like Aurat Foundation, Behbood, Pakistan Federation of University Women, Federation of Business and Professional Women have played an important role in creating awareness among women for their socio-economic and political rights. NGO like Pakistan Federation of University Women having affiliation with International Federation of University Women (IFUW), who enjoy consultative status with UN has done a lot in promoting higher education among women. Quite a number of talented young women were awarded fellowships/scholarships in collaboration with IFUW to study at renowned foreign universities for their Masters/Ph.D. degrees.

Pakistan Women Lawyers Association (PWLA) has helped in creating awareness regarding legal rights of women specially in context of Family Laws and also helped thousand of aggrieved women by providing free legal aid for their legal cases in various Courts of law.

Notable NGOs can be tapped for facilitating advocacy relating to need of advancement of women in various aspects of socio-economic and political life of the country, and also for developing linkages with various tears of government for getting approved women development plans implemented by concerned government functionaries without delay.

The undaunted efforts of Pakistan Federation of Business and professional women for getting equal opportunities for working women for participation in advanced training programs relating to their line of profession both in public and private sector entities are commendable. This initiative on the part of PFBPW has enabled number of women reaching to senior management level in their organizations.

The linkages with international women NGOs like International Federation of University women, International Federation of Business and professional women, UNIFEM and UNICEF have been found more fruitful for women of Pakistan for getting interaction with women all over the world. The linkage with these foreign bodies have brought awareness to women of Pakistan regarding latest development in technologies in all fields, and has also given them exposure to various strategies needed to promote women welfare.

Linkages with international bodies can be helpful in having contact with various foreign universities/colleges of repute for the fellowships and scholarships offered by them for post-graduate and Ph.D. degrees in various disciplines of education.

To conclude, initiatives are needed on the part of women themselves, individually and collectively (through women NGOs) to disseminate information to remote areas of the country regarding opportunities available for higher and professional education for women in the country, to enable them to become value added human capital.