Since its inception, Pakistan has been among the countries with very low literacy rates. One central reason for this has been the shortage of educational opportunities. Pakistani society has been male-dominant, where men govern not only private but public spheres as well. Law in every country of the world rejects discrimination in any sphere of life. Discrimination in legal sense is defined as “unequal treatment of persons, for a reason which has nothing to do with legal rights or ability” (Law. com).
Rightfully, the state of Pakistan denies any such biases as it is declared in the Constitution in Chapter 1 Part II Fundamental Rights. Article 25 and 27 refer to equality of citizens and affirm that there shall be no discrimination and the state will safeguard rights. However, recently there has been a lot of debate regarding the trend of number of female students exceeding male students in professional colleges due to admissions on the basis of open merit. The case presented demands affirmative action in favor of male students.
While the law refutes injustice and prejudice on basis of gender, many in Pakistan have been pushing for reserved quotas for male students and in fact favor a deserving female student’s seat to be taken up by a relatively non-deserving male student. The major reason for the ongoing debate has been the considerable lack of doctors in Pakistan, especially the insufficiency of practicing female doctors despite their greater number in professional colleges. Almost 60-65% of student body in medical colleges is female.
Unfortunately, only 10-15% is practicing doctors (Arif). Reasons given by some female doctors for not practicing have been women’s exploitation for their soft values and compassion, they easily give way to men both at home or work, women lack confidence, lack hard core professional skills, they also tend to lag behind in practical knowledge and support in career planning (Arif). The trend is reversed in engineering universities, where there is a ratio of 10 males to 1 female student. But these students mainly migrate overseas for further education and jobs.
The female students hardly find jobs according to their fields in engineering. Most of the educated women are found doing administrative tasks and office jobs. Therefore, the expense done on female students is being repeatedly regarded as a drain of educational resources. Unluckily, there has been a lot of generalization about the reasons to lower number of female professionals and the foremost explanation is marriage after graduation and women’s preference to stay at home after marriage.
But the fact that female professionals are not provided with suitable working environment is often overlooked. Also, the quality of internship training is poor and often these women are not encouraged to acquire further studies. In countries such as Pakistan, social and cultural factors need not be disregarded. Given that, it gets impossible for a significant number of female doctors to actively work at night shifts, compete with male businessmen or to take up strenuous tasks of work as engineers and technicians.
But there can be measures to accommodate females which should be taken up by the government and concerned institutes. Although it is claimed that there is no prejudice between genders while recruiting and pay scales of men and women, this is not what is observed. The average monthly payment for females is calculated to be Rs. 6422. 34 but for males it is Rs. 10211. 21. Of the 013. 10% employed women in Pakistan, 65. 7% earn up to 5000 rupees per month only. While only 24. 1% of employed men earn up to 5000 rupees per month. The rest earn above Rs. 5000 (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics).
According to a survey conducted by SeemaArif on issues faced by female doctors, 43% of the females who had quit government jobs was due to dissatisfaction with salary, 19% wanted to quit due to huge workload, 13% were not satisfied with attitude of senior management and 7% wanted to quit due to lack of time flexibility. Male doctors and engineers on the other hand, have also shown discontentment with their salaries and recently it has been noticed that a considerably large number of males have migrated to Middle East and USA in order to practice medicine.
For example in 2004, out of 1100 graduates from Aga Khan 900 left abroad for specialization. Out of these 900 only 40 are reported to have returned to Pakistan (Haider). Similarly, Saudi Arabia is expected to import thousands of Pakistani doctors by paying triple times to their current monthly pays (Usman). Having said this, it is important to note that with this brain drain the total percentage of professionals in Pakistan is 1. 79, of which male professionals is only 1. 47 and female is 0. 32 (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics).
When narrowed down, these statistics reflect that women benefiting from open merit are not only to be held responsible for a lack of skilled labor force. Also, the “believed” trend of enrollment is only restricted to medical colleges. Framing admission policies dependant on only one category of professional colleges is undesirable. The laws concerning our case mainly are from the Fundamental Rights section of the Pakistan’s Constitution Chapter I Part II. Article 25 states Equality of citizens. (1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. 2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. (3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children. According to Article 37, “the State shall … (b) remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period; (c) make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit” (Constitution of Pakistan 1973).
This is consistent with Article 26 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): “Education shall be free at least in the elementary and fundamental stages … Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948). These laws guarantee the right of equality of every citizen regardless of gender while encouraging steps to be taken for the betterment of women in Pakistan.
Affirmative action or reverse quotas in favor of men take a 180 degree turn with regard to this rule. Also, to safeguard this law, the constitution further implies that any law made in opposition to the fundamental rights be void, as stated in Article 8: Laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights to be void: (1) Any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by this Chapter, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void. 2) The State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights so conferred and any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void. Furthermore, our constitution ensures the participation of women in all sectors as stated in Article 34 Part II Chapter II: Full participation of women in national life: (1) Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life (Constitution of Pakistan 1973).
Affirmative action was carried out in the US in the form of compensatory justice; positive racial discrimination was carried out in favor of minority groups that were victims of injustice in the past. The reasonableness for affirmative action was given by “the legislature is at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs and traditions of the people and with a view to the promotion of their comfort and the preservation of public peace and good order” (Brown). The precision of the term “liberty” was questionable and so positive discrimination in the US was made possible.
But Pakistan’s constitution clearly states gender discrimination to be unlawful. According to the 18th amendment, the word “alone” was omitted from the end of Article 25 (b) Part I Chapter I, broadening the dimensions of rule against discrimination, making any sort of discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional. Secondly, affirmative action is already being carried out in Pakistan in the forms of quotas based on ethnic groups but again the reason for this is that these groups have been deprived of educational standards enjoyed by others or are underrepresented in all sectors .
For example, the Ministry of Education has an ongoing project to admit 1,650 students from FATA and Balochistan on scholarship basis in government colleges (ilmkidunya. com). Measures like these taken up by the Government to alleviate backwardness and sense of deprivation and to ensure opportunities at a more equitable basis. Whereas, in our case, male students have never suffered any sort of injustice on the basis of gender in the past. Even today they are out-numbered by females in admissions on the basis of merit and not on any sort of illegal or unfair means.
Therefore, affirmative action just on the basis of gender is not applicable. Thirdly, there are many drawbacks of this policy. One of the most important ones is its intense controversial nature as it is considered to be an offense to equality which is a fundamental right of everyone. It will take away ones right (in our case female’s) to equal consideration and equal opportunity in the admission process. Reversed quotas or affirmative action will also devalue the idea of merit as unworthy people will be rewarded and the eserving female candidates will be deprived of their right. Also, these policies have the tendency of reducing competition among the favored group which will again lead to the degeneration of our country as incompetent and under qualified labor makes it to the work force. Accepting these policies will also crop up the issue of implementation and enforcement of the new law, which will require revision of local school laws and admission policies. Courts will have to decide how and in what form the affirmative action be executed.
Will it be in the form of direct quotas or weights? How long these policies are necessary? Moreover, in a developing country like ours, where women are still thriving to evolve and make their way in the society, a policy like this will drastically hinder their career growth and development process. Law should be enacted to promote public good and social welfare, whereas these policies will have a negative impact on the society as a whole, creating a feeling of inferiority amongst the female students. In a recently held survey, researchers have shown that 67. % seats have on the University of Health Sciences merit exam were secured by female candidates whereas 32. 6% by males (UHS). But is this reason strong enough to drive the system towards a quota scheme? Setting up reserved seats for male students is itself an insult to merit system. Mr. Raza Ali khan presented an argument in front of an apex court in AJK where five girls filed a petition against quota system (Naqash). He says that it would be highly unfair to select a male student with 63% marks in a medical college while rejecting a girl with 83% marks.
This promotes corruption, an escape passage for the pre-dominant males in the country. Most common argument raised against woman filling the medical seats is that the seats are wasted because after graduation, they don’t practice their respective fields; whereas the bread earners of the family, usually the men, need to get education in order to sustain the family. The argument can be negated by the report of 2007, where Pakistan Medical and Dental Council registered 2608 female doctors and 2158 male doctors (PMDC). This ratio clearly shows the high intake of woman in the professional fields.
The ratio of registered female dentist is even higher, 515, as compared to 244 male dentists (PMDC). These numbers clearly contradict the underlying assumption of woman putting the degree to a waste. There has been an increased mobility of lady health workers in the rural sector of Pakistan, which is a visible proof of an increased working class of woman. Also a report shows that most of “the male doctors are leaving abroad because lack of proper service and salary structure in the country” (PMDC). In such a situation, initiating an affirmative action would be equal to exporting human capital.
If the criteria for admission are shifted from merit basis, it can be argued that an additional drawback would be that the educational standard will deteriorate. Education in Pakistan for women is improving rapidly for women. As mentioned, an increased amount of female enrollment can be observed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the literacy rate of females overall is still less than males. According to the latest PSLM survey (2008-2009) only 45% women are literate compared with 69% literate males in Pakistan. Currently the Government of Pakistan is spending about 2 percent of GNP on education (PSLM Survey 2008-2009).
This is insufficient, given the educational needs of the country. Instead of reducing the amount of opportunities that woman receive, the government should commit to allocating 7 percent of GNP to the education sector and commit to the proportionate allocation to various sub-sectors of education, especially girls’ and women’s education (National Educational Policy 2009). The new National Education Policy of 2009 has made strong commitments and policy recommendations for such steps. Immediate implementation of these will help Pakistan to get closer to achieving the EFA goals and MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).
A recent analysis of budget and public sector expenditure on education has revealed that spending on education has actually declined, during 2007-2009, which is a matter of great concern (UNESCO, EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010). Another argument presented for supporting affirmative action is that a working woman damages the family system, leading to the American ‘liberal’ and ‘damaged’ family life. Such arguments are supported by fallacies like only mother can take perfect care of her children, or if mother is out working, the child’s cognitive development is put to a halt.
However, a study conducted by The Economist Journal, shows that there is empirical evidence present, supporting the fact that it does not have to be a mother to take care of the child, it can be “another person who is well disposed towards it may do an equally good job” (The Economist). The strong family system of Pakistan, where usually grand parents live with their families, can definitely be used to raise the child in the times of absence of the mother. Also the cheap labor in the informal sector of the economy, like nannies, can be hired to take care of the child during the office hours of the mother.
There are strong proofs present on the causal relation between poverty and the ill-grooming of the child. The Economist says, “Poverty is very bad for children, so if the mother’s work helps to avert it they will benefit. Poor child care can set a child back” (The Economist). To save a child’s infantile from poverty and a deprived state, it is highly important to raise the family from the subsistent level. Even though Pakistan is different from the West which has a negative population growth rate, it is unreasonable to assume that the demographic might remain constant.
We might enforce reserve quotas for male students now but after a decade we might be facing a crisis. In fact, even according to the current demographic, if women aren’t provided professional opportunities, they might fall into the category of people who need support rather than be a part of the workforce. The 1990-1991 Pakistan Integrated Household Survey indicated that the female labor force participation rate was 45% in rural areas and 17% the urban areas. (Pakistan Integrated Household Survey 1990-1991) The 1980 agricultural census stated that the women’s participation rate in agriculture was 73%. 1980 World Census of Agriculture, FAO) The increased number of women participating in the workforce in rural areas compared to urban areas suggests that lack of professional education might actually be the cause. The population pyramid of Pakistan is by no means something to be proud about. There have been recent attempts by the government to control the expansive structure of the pyramid. According to the Pakistan Educational Policy document (2009):“It is common knowledge, as well as a proven outcome of many studies that discrimination exists in the education system in various forms.
The inequity has been the result of poor implementation and social customs”. (National Educational Policy 2009) The problems in Pakistan’s social system need to be realized and they should not be made to interfere or overrule the fundamental rights. The quota system favoring men against women appears to promote a ‘bad’ social custom. Most of the countries have support for maternity leave. Even Pakistan has four different laws pertaining to maternity leave, which grant every employed woman a leave of 12 weeks, 6 months before and 6 months after the pregnancy.
And during the three months, she would be getting pay equal to her last pay check (“Maternity Leaves and other Benefits”). With such legal protection, no argument can hold working of a woman against her will of bearing a child. Education of women has its own benefits, from economic welfare to child upbringing and overall social wellbeing. It has been researched that countries with low gender gaps in education have a higher economic growth rate. Countries with a higher rate of educated women have a higher GDP.
Even if women don’t pursue employment after education, they still benefit the society as it has been concluded that children of educated mothers go for higher education, educated women are more aware of their rights, their role in the society and if need arises they can support their families. Thus, education of women is not in any way “waste” of resources in Pakistan. To conclude the given case, keeping in view the arguments and the statistics, affirmative action or reverse quota in favor of male students is not the solution.
According to Pakistan’s constitution, this action would be unlawful. Though, it has been observed from the figures and statistics that economical recourses are not being utilized to their optimum level, yet women outnumbering men is not the only reason for this. Except from medical sector, female representation is far below compared to male. Statistics also prove that majority of the lady doctors are employed and their employment is increasing with the passage of time. It is also observed that an educated mother contributes more towards a healthy society.
Introducing a quota would also mean that the standard and quality of doctors would be compromised. The need of the time is that more institutions be built to accommodate young deserving candidates who face tough competition to qualify for a college. Education is a fundamental right of an individual. Even Islam emphasizes on the importance of education regardless of sex. Holy Prophet Muhammad (p. b. u. h) said“ To acquire knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman. ” Any law which opposes fundamental rights shall be void under our constitution.