Women and education under Zia
By: Abdul Razaque Channa
CANBERRA: The Pakistani education system has been influenced by various factors ranging from the subcontinent’s historical background, a shared geography and cultural history with India, colonisation by Britain and so on.
Among the many reasons, the dictatorial era of General Ziaul Haq played a significant role in shaping today’s educational system through its impact on education policies and syllabus of state institutions. Policies and curriculums designed during that time were based on a rigid representation of Islam. Educational policies in general and textbooks in particular were designed in a way that reflected and disseminated gendered messages favouring males and discriminating against women.
Promulgation of the Nizam-i-Mustafa helped Zia unite people and control growing political turmoil. It is believed by many experts that his initiatives were driven by certain political objectives rather than religious ends. One academic wrote in 2005 that “Zia used the ‘women’s card’ as the first and most obvious symbol for his Islamisation plans, knowing that a large majority of the male population of the country would have little difficulty in digesting for a moral and puritan Islamic society.” This process of Islamisation had a direct impact on the lives of women since the programme adversely affected the areas of civil law, education and employment. Not only this, it touched upon administration, judiciary, banking, trade, education, agriculture, industry and foreign affairs and this meant that just about everyone was affected.
Islamiyat was made compulsory as a course of study from the primary level right up to college and university. The teaching of Arabic from class VI was required and thousands of madrassas were established. One expert noted that laws and Quranic verses were repeatedly disseminated publicly so as to influence public perception of women. Besides this, the popular discourse during the Zia era may have appeared Islamic but actually was society’s patriarchal voice speaking and subjugating women. Such discourse favouring males and discriminating against women encouraged the more orthodox class of society to speak openly under the power of state. This meant people openly saying that women should stay at home and avoid working in public places. This not only meant stopping women from working in a government or private sector job, but even meant preventing them from taking part, say, in sports, the arts or any other activity where males were in the audience.