PESHAWAR: Men are “the gatekeepers of current gender orders and are potential resistors of change.”
This is the main finding of the book “The Gatekeepers: Engaging Pashtun Men for Gender Justice and Girls’ Education,” which hit the stalls recently.
The book is a valuable contribution for promotion of girls’ education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the recently merged tribal districts.
Authored by Dr Aamir Jamal, a son of the Pashtun soil who currently serves as an associate professor in the University of Calgary, Canada, the book meticulously analyzes the barriers in promotion of girls’ education in the Pashtun dominated society.
Based on his PhD research, the book consists of personal experiences of the author and the field research he had done for his thesis.
Published by Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue, (IRD), International Islamic University, Islamabad, the 242-page book is available for US $10 or Rs700.
The book is well-written as it engages the readers and makes them understand the issue. The case studies and personal stories given in the book are worth reading.
The book can be an important guideline for the education department and a source of awareness and enlightenment of the general public.
At the outset, the writer narrates a story of his childhood when he was walking with his mother – a school teacher – in Peshawar Saddar and a woman with a child in her lap rushed to her and gave her great respect.
The woman requested the author’s mother to allow her to buy a gift for her son. While delivering the gift to him, she whispered in Aamir Jamal’s ears that she was a student of his mother.
Girls’ education at those times was rare in the Pashtun society. He recalled that his mother was the only educated woman in her extended family then and later got associated with the noble profession of teaching. She taught at a mud-made school on the outskirts of Peshawar.
The author also sometimes went to the school with his mother and witnessed some strange stories, which were actually the reasons discouraging female education.
He saw how early marriages and poor financial condition of the families were obstacles in promotion of female education, though he witnessed many girls from affluent families discontinuing their education due to the social pressures and the command of the men in their families.
The author also recalls how his mother consoled and encouraged the disheartened girls to continue their studies from home.
According to the author, the patriarchal nature of the society and dominance of men are the main hurdles in girls’ education. He noted that the men in Pashtun society make decisions about women.
The author strongly believes that this attitude needs to change and education is the key to change in society. He noted that an educated woman can shape the direction of the community and ultimately the entire nation.
According to the author, education opens the door to questioning existing social hierarchies and it equips a woman with knowledge and skills to explore her true identity, strengths and role in the community.
For him, educating girls is the most effective tool for building just, peaceful and sustainable communities.
He stresses the need for collective mobilization of men on gender issues, which could be the most effective form of social justice as it would engage the members of a privileged group to challenge that same privilege.
In his view, the conservative nature of thinking of the people, the Pakhtun traditions and taboos and, above all, the misinterpretation of religion are some other obstacles in girls’ education.
The author also speaks about the lack of education facilities such as dearth of girls-only schools and non-availability of basic facilities such as boundary-wall, toilet and drinking water in the schools. Besides, an effective policy-making for promotion of girls’ education is lacking.
Based on his findings, the author has given workable recommendations for overcoming the gaps and promoting girls’ education.
These include the need for engaging elders and imams (prayer-leaders) in gender justice and girls’ education programmes and utilizing hujra and jirga as central points to involve men in outreach programmes.
Other recommendations are as follows:
Strong relationships and effective coordination between non-governmental organisations and government education departments at local and central levels should be maintained.
The number and safety of girls-only schools should be increased and the number of lady teachers and their security ought to be ensured.
Local needs, skills and religious and cultural sensitivities in curriculum design and overall school environment should be addressed by getting community elders involved in the decision-making process.
Support and incentives to needy families for sending their girls to school such as arranging school food supplement programme.
Political will and the commitment of government by making girls’ education a priority in education reform and policy dialogue at both national and international levels should be enhanced.