SDGs and Pakistan

Achieving gender parity in rural Pakistan schools: A postcolonial perspective (Part 1)

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The historical status of girls’ education in the rural parts of Pakistan such as Balochistan is bleak. Various national and international reportsintrastate discourse and political rhetoric argue that patriarchy, remoteness, poverty, security and rugged topography are mainly responsible for the indicators of girls’ low enrolment and high dropout in the rural schools of Pakistan. I want to emphasize, however, that these factors interact with the discourse of education policy, changing power relations, the role of stakeholders and policy actors, and the emerging mode of governance and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) policy processes. Keeping this backdrop in mind, in this series of blog posts I outline some key issues to explore a different way of thinking, informed by a postcolonial approach, in relation to the girls’ education in rural areas of Balochistan. In this first post I want to provide some context to understanding Balochistan, and why these challenges persist and in the following one I argue that the education policy developments are problematic in postcolonial Pakistan.

Image credit: District Education Group 

Background on Balochistan and the policy landscape

Balochistan is one of Pakistan’s four provinces that accounts for around 5.5 percent of the country’s 207.77 million people and constitutes 44 percent of the total land. Pakistan is a low-income country with 1186 USD GDP per capita and it ranks 110 out of 141 countries in the global competitive index (GCI). The literacy rate in Pakistan is 60 percent, 49 percent females and 70 percent males. Pakistan ranks 130 out of 137 countries in primary education and performs better than only Afghanistan in South Asia (SA) in girls’ education. The gender parity index (GPI) in primary school participation is 0.85 and girls’ enrolment rate is 68 percent, better than only Afghanistan in SA, and Chad and South Sudan in sub-Saharan countries. 

Within Pakistan there is also severe disparity in the schools by province and rural/urban location. For example, in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) less than 10 percent of girls are out of school whereas in rural Balochistan it is over 75 percent. In Pakistan the diversity in geography, religious beliefs, culture, social and economic situations of various population groups and regions pose different challenges and opportunities for girls’ education. Girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in the rural remote areas of Balochistan will most likely not participate in school or they will be at risk of leaving school early. 

Image credit: District Education Group

The number of international, national and local policies has risen over the past few decades in response to the increased number of girls not enrolled in school, increased dropout rates and a wide gender disparity in schools in Balochistan. A brief overview of education policy development in Pakistan reveals various initiatives and instruments at the federal and provincial levels, that are enacted in the form of policies, programmes, legislative Acts and strategies, to achieve the targets of Education for All (EFA) and gender equality in schools. The vision of EFA was initiated in Jomtein, Thailand in 1990, reiterated in the Dakar framework of action in the year 2000, and continued as an unfinished agenda beyond 2015 in the Incheon Declaration

The constitutional and legal measures in Pakistan include the incorporation of Article 25-A into the 1973 Constitution of the country to protect the right of every child from the age of 5 to 16 years, irrespective of gender, to education. The Balochistan province further responded with enactment of the Balochistan Compulsory Education Act (BCEA) 2014 to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution in the province. 

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The national and provincial education targets, previously aligned with UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), now aligned with the SDGs, as well as framework of action agreed in the Incheon Declaration by all the member countries to achieve SDGs 4 and 5 by 2030. In the year 2000, in order to address the challenges of poverty, health, education and others, the global community had agreed to achieve eight goals through timebound and measurable objectives and targets. Various international aid packages through UN organizations, donor agencies, transnational organizations, non-government organizations (NGO) have been technically and financially supporting the national education system at different locations such as national, provincial and local. 

Many other countries with similar socio-economic situations and education indicators to Pakistan have significantly progressed and achieved most of their education related MDG targets such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in South Asia. However, Pakistan missed almost all its education related targets by a huge gapUNESCO (2015) reported that Pakistan was a long way away from achieving gender parity in primary school level, despite SA as whole already achieving the target. 

In this situation, owing to severe disparities in schools on the basis of gender and rural-urban locations, UN organizations, donors and transnational organizations enhanced their support at the national level as well as in all provinces including Balochistan. In the next blog post, I argue that these policy developments are problematic in postcolonial Pakistan and draw on three overlapping forms of globalization: commodification of human efforts; expansion of western culture; and influence of global policies to the state policies to illustrate the divide in policy and practice for achieving gender parity in schools in Balochistan (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Three forms of globalization


70 replies on “Achieving gender parity in rural Pakistan schools: A postcolonial perspective (Part 1)”

An indepth analysis has been done by the writer on one of the most neglected areas of the province’s socio-economic problems.He has extensively dealt with all the factors which are responsible for abysmally low level of Girls’ education.


Oh what a coincidence, I was searching for some material on education particularly Balochistan, and here I got the stuff. A comprehensive approach and looking forward for part 2. Regards


Very well analyzed. The policies we mostly adopt either from international organizations like UN or even federal government are very different from social realities that we have mostly in rural areas. So, even if they are the best policies which worked in one place, they dont necessarily correspond to the needs of other place. I think we need to be more realistic about this.
Thid article is interesting with all the data and evidence incorporated, all issues need serious attention.


Another good attempt to highlight the facts that barriers the least developed province of Pakistan, particularly in women’s education. In most of cases, the female students quit further studies just because they don’t have accessible educational setups in neighboring distances and that leads us to lose the lot to contribute in welfare of an already struggling society.


A well researched and perfectly articulated article on much neglected sector. Its an eye opener for all of us whether public or private planners,executives or politicians to put this issue on top priority to develop our nation. As mentioned, gender parity is an issue for both rural and urban slums but situation in rural and remote areas like Balochistan is on a alarming level which needs to be catered on the top.

I hope and sure such research and studies will be highly beneficial for cognizing the reasons of gender parity and planning for future actions. I


Dear Javed sb,

This is really impressive notes by you. You have highlighted very well the issues of Education in Balochistan particularly girls Education. Yes, your write up will definitely help out the policy makers. I would urge that there is need of contextual planning too from province level to District level. We have worked together and I always appreciate your keen attention towards Education sector. Your write up is indeed admirable and hope you will continue to write such constructive write ups.


The issue of girls education will persist in Balochistan as long as their lack of interest from local population and leadership.We will keep missing socio-economic indicators unless outdated presumptions about girls education are dealt with.


An excellent mix of ground knowledge of the writer’s own roots, public sector perspective on development in rural Baluchistan, interest of international organizations and cultural issues. The subject of inclusive education, specially in rural Baluchistan faces all these challenges and more. I happen to driver through the RCD Highway from Karachi to Quetta (roughly 700 KMs) and too along the more developed areas of Baluchistan and I hardly see any young girls with school bags walking in uniforms. The writer, with his vast experiences of deep rooted problems, lives in far off areas, has provided an amazing insight on gender related issues facing the province. Eager to read the detailed research from Javed Shahwani, for his unique insights into this area due to his versatile experience and research.


Coherent and applicable. Relevant factors discussed befittingly. Certainly pertinent and useful examination of the issues.


Really an amazing analysis revealing a true picture of girls Education in Balochistan. However, there are some newly emerged initiatives, such as Education sector plan development and its implementation. Education Management information system revamping and Real Time School Monitoring initiative that has beeb taken by government Education department with the technical and financial support of UNICEF and other development partners.


This is a well-articulated piece of writing. The genealogy of gender disparity that you have sketched is thought-provoking and I am certain that you are findings can be productive to bridge this gap. While reading this piece, I was wondering how countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were able to meet the international targets and raised female literacy, but Pakistan left behind doing this. This raises multiple questions about the gaps in policies and practices. For instance, if we have a look at the language policies of Pakistan, we can see how the bourgies class in Pakistan still hold very dear the culture of English colonizers, and now this class, which is in control of the economy, and the government only make policies that protect their so-called interest. We are happy that after the English left, we got our freedom, but as a matter of fact, English never left, they were there from the very beginning in the form of this bourgie class.
This is a very powerful class in Pakistan that controls the army, government bureaucracy, and other important institutions. To keep their supremacy in Pakistan, this class makes educational policies that look very innocent on the surface to get the consent of the population but, they are never meant to benefit the general population. Urdu is the medium of instruction in public schools and officially, it is considered as the symbol of national solidarity and integration, but, in reality, it is a bourgie conspiracy to subjugate and suppress the proletariat class. We do not need to be philosophers to decipher this class in Pakistan, their everything is different from the general population; their children go to expensive private English medium schools, they go to expensive restaurants and stores and dwell in luxury houses which common men cannot afford because of the economic disparity caused by the non-uniform education system.
We have two distinctive education systems in Pakistan; one is for proletariat class where the medium of instruction is Urdu and the children are educated in these schools often have fractured identities because of the school and home language difference. This education system, from very early stages of children’s development, began causing psychological, cognitive, linguistic, and educational harm and by the time they pass out from schools, they neither have a good education to become learned person, nor they have the language of power (English) to, at least, get a good job to support themselves. On the other hand, the education system of high-end English medium schools is both productive and not harmful because children in these schools do not have fractured identifies like the children in Urdu medium schools. This bougie class in Pakistan often thinks it below their dignity or they are afraid to lose power if they speak in local languages. They have also internalized the notion that education in local languages bring poverty and ignorance and therefore they try not to speak it but, to subjugate the working class, they even cannot afford to see them get an education in their local languages, but in Urdu language (spoken only by 7.5% of Pakistan’s population) which neither gives them a good education nor an opportunity of upward mobility.

I think the two common things in those developing countries (which met the international goals to bridge the gender disparity in education) or the developed countries (which have exemplary education system) have the medium of instructions which are the mother tongue of most of the population and have a decentralized education system to the level of individual schools. Both things are missing from the education system in Pakistan. Local is almost nonexistent in curricula, for example, children leaving in Turbat are taught about the Badshahi Masjid and Shahi Qila, in a language which is not their own, but they are not taught the history of Koh-e-Murad and other historical places surrounding Turbat. Developing a coherent education system has never been the intend these policies, but to offer educational policies specifically designed to murder and Islamize the local history through a continuous cycle of brainwashing the young minds.


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