Finding the pathway: women teachers’ aspirations in northern Pakistan

Finding the pathway: women teachers’ aspirations in northern Pakistan

Finding the pathway: women teachers’ aspirations in northern Pakistan

Women teachers face enormous cultural challenges in northern Pakistan. Research from the Aga Khan University explores women's experiences of trying to build teaching careers within this patriarchal society and looks at how they balance their multiple commitments.

After independence in 1947, girls’ education was seenas essential for teaching family responsibilities and preparing girls fortraditionally female professions, such as teaching. However, the NationalEducation Policy 1998-2010 now emphasises education equally as a right for girlsand boys.

Interventions to increase girls' attendance at school includedrecruiting more female teachers between 1990 and 2000 (at primary level from33.4 to 44.2 percent and at secondary level from 32 to 54.3 percent). Whileincreases at secondary level are due to encouraging more women teachers in girls-onlyschools, growth at primary level can be associated with an increase in mixed-genderschools. Current government statistics from 2005 to 2006 show that nationally, womenmake up 36 percent of teachers in government-managed schools. Regional numbersare still lower, with 28 percent for the Northern Areas.

In the Northern Areas, teaching is recognised as themost appropriate off-farm employment opportunity for women because:

  • Womenare usually appointed to schools within their own communities, reducingthe chances of them interacting with men they are not related to.
  • Shortschool days allow women to fulfil their home-based responsibilities suchas farming and cattle rearing in the early morning and afternoons.
  • Teaching,particularly at primary and middle school levels, is seen to fit in withwomen’s nurturing family roles.

The research reveals tensions between familycommitments and professional aspirations. Women usually take up teaching as it canfit around family duties. Yet it is often other family members who resist women’sattempts at professional development and prevent them from working away from home.

Some women manage to negotiate their dual roles, forexample, by contributing their teaching salary to the household income,reducing the dependency on family cattle and using weekends to complete biggerfarming tasks.

Women also find it hard to assume leadership roles inschools. Professional challenges they face include:

  • unsupportiveworkplace and organisational structures, such as resistance to femaleleadership and the absence of childcare or transport facilities
  • male-orientedschool leadership practices
  • regionaleducation offices located too far from schools for women to visit easily
  • weekend management committeemeetings.

Teacher training, educational leadership and management courses alone cannot ensure womenteachers’ full participation in school life. Strategies need to support womenin schools on several levels, for example:

  • Schoolauthorities should be prepared to make women teachers’ families better awareof the importance and value ofcareer development.
  • Schoolmeetings and trainingactivities should take place in physically andculturally accessible locations.
  • Establishingwomen teacher and female education leader networks could encourage womento link up with their peers in nearby communities.
  • Government-ledteacher education programmes need to include time and space for male andfemale teachers to reflect on and share their experiences.
  • Educationmanagement courses must include a gender awareness component.

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