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How Pakistan’s curriculum is biased against women

According to Maryam Tariq, the curriculum in Pakistan is tailored in such a way that it glorifies men while glossing over the achievements of women. The government should redesign the curriculum to equally include the achievements of both men and women.

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In 2020, Pakistan’s government proposed a Single National Curriculum (SNC) which was criticized by many parties including the Women’s Action Forum for being an idea to propagate ideological imperatives rather than pedagogical goals.

Under the 18th Amendment, the education power given to provinces was devolved and declared as a fundamental right (Article 25A). In Pakistan, more than 22.8 million children are out of school (UNICEF), and based on gender; boys outnumber girls in every stage.

This proves that to maintain the quality and quantity of education, the government of Pakistan will have to do more than just codifying the laws into the constitution. Means and measures to make the curriculum interesting and comprehendible must be introduced.

Read more: The ugly truth about Pakistan’s education system

However, the issue does not stop here. While we highlight some of the basic issues in school curriculums in Pakistan, it must be brought to the public’s as well as the government’s attention that the curriculum taught in our schools is highly biased against women. There is little or no focus on the achievements of women in our coursebooks.

Take an example of our Islamiat curriculum; there are only two chapters on women. One of the chapters is on Hazrat Fatima R.A and the other on Hazrat Khadija R.A while emphasizing their role as subservient wife and daughter rather than outlining the latter’s achievement as a trader.

The history of many great women such as Hazrat Zainab R.A, a great leader, and Rufaida Al-Aslamia, the first female doctor and surgeon in Islam is completely overlooked.

Read more: Pakistan ranked among the worst five countries for women, WEF

Glorifying men while ignoring women

In our history books, male rulers, especially Mughal emperors are glorified. Moreover, the achievements and struggles of male leaders and activists during the subcontinent era are mentioned while deliberately ignoring the female activists.

Female activists include Atiya Fayzee, the first woman from South Asia to attend The University of Cambridge, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, a women rights activist in the subcontinent who post-partition founded All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), and Fatima Ali Jinnah, a sister who even after the partition continued her struggle for the country. Even the chapter on Fatima Jinnah’s struggle against General Ayub Khan’s dirty election campaign cannot be found anywhere.

Read more: Fatima Jinnah: Valiant till the end

It shall be realized that highlighting the struggles and achievements of these women will serve as reinforcement to our women and allow them to be goal-oriented and ambitious. The reasons behind leaving out the achievements of such inspiring women are several: intolerant religious extremists towards the rights of women, the patriarchy that wants to maintain male domination, and a military that wants to glorify its ruling eras.

It is not at all hard to predict the gender biases of the Ministry of Federal Education while taking a look at the curriculum.

In our Urdu books, the poetry of great male poets such as Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, and many others are taught at schools. Whereas, one cannot find the poetry of great women poets like Parveen Shakir, Ada Jafri, Fahmida Riaz, and many more.

Read more: The enduring name and philosophy of Iqbal

Most of the female poets raised their voice against the patriarchy and promoted women’s rights through their poetry, therefore, in an ideological state like Pakistan which ranks on 154 out of 189 countries (HDI, 2020); it is taboo to discuss their poetry as it might make women more aware of their fundamental rights.

Discussing Mir Ghalib’s fondness for Mangoes and objectifying the female body in male poetry is found more relevant than inculcating the poetry of female activists and thinkers.

How to solve the issue

In addition to what has been discussed earlier, it can further be mentioned that our social studies books are no less when it comes to enforcing gendered curriculum. Course books of Social Studies highlight the role of women as a housekeeper and housewife with an absence of the achievements of great dancers, actors, thinkers, painters, sportswomen, pilots, etc.

Women like Begum Vikar-un-Nisa Noon, a social activist, and Sheema Kermani, exponent of Bharatanatyam dance, founder of dance theatre, and Tehrik-e-Niswan Cultural Action Group are nowhere to be found. Begum Vikar-un-Nisa and Sheema are only a few of the many names that are overlooked and forgotten.

Read more: In Pakistan, why are women the hardest hit by the pandemic?

It is evident that the curriculum in Pakistan is tailored against the achievements of women and their role in nation-building. For this, many factors can be blamed: the failure of democracy in the early years of Pakistan, patriarchy, colonial mentality, and religious intolerance and extremism.

In the light of the above discussion, it can be concluded that instead of promoting critical thinking, creativity, motivation, and intellectual growth, the curriculum in Pakistan is promoting gender biases, homogenization, centralism, and religious nationalism.

For this reason, the government shall redesign the curriculum in such a way that the achievements of men and women in history, religion, and culture shall be highlighted equally.

Under the 18th Amendment, every province shall develop its own curricula in line with its own histories and cultures while keeping in mind the achievements of women as well. Only then the issue of the gendered curriculum will be resolved.

Read more: Sania Saeed: Pakistan dramas don’t highlight real issues faced by Women

The author holds a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology. She is currently a student of Masters in Development Studies at the National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad. Her stream of interest is Peace, Conflict, and Development. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space

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