Gender Segregation in Educational institutes: Why we need to end it?

    We in Pakistan live in a patriarchal society, but there exists a constitutional assurance of gender equality. However, the ground realities show that equality remains a distant dream. In the past few years, legislation to empower women to make them self-reliant has been done, but some policies at the state level may still be contributing to gender discrimination.

    My son told me that the new director at his university says girls are not supposed to wear short shirts or trousers. Non-segregated gatherings have also been banned by the administration. This is a well-known university in Peshawar. I wonder how the two genders will learn to work with each other at workplaces when they have been told to not interact with the opposite gender in their student lives.

    Meanwhile, girls-only segregated institutions are a growing phenomenon not just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but across the country.

    The pink bus service where drivers, passengers and conductors are all women, is meant to ease mobility for women. The project was indeed launched in good faith, but it makes me think how it will prepare women for participating in the mainstream society because not all workplaces can be women-only. And if the women have little to no interaction with the opposite gender during their working hours, how will they manage to understand the perspective of the other gender?

    Those women who choose to work in a different field will have a hard time adjusting. Will women doctors only be made to practice in female medical colleges and only attend to female patients? What if a male patient is in dire need for medical assistance and only woman doctor is available? Aren’t these initiatives broadening the men-women gaps?

    Coeducation is considered ‘negative’ by most people in our society based on certain stereotypes. Those who have never been a part of such a system and have nothing to do with the education system are the first ones to ‘condemn’ coeducation.

    A female student from O levels when started studying at an all-girls college shared that although girls do not get to interact with boys at the campus, they do have male friends. Same is the case with boys who study at boys-only colleges.

    Similarly, during a visit to a university where there was gender segregation at the cafeteria, I noticed some lovebirds were hovering around after university hours. This means you cannot force your choice upon the young students.

    Let’s have a look at the positive aspects of coeducation if offered at all levels of education. The coed environment teaches a sense of acceptance of diversity and of the opposite gender in a very natural manner.

    If girls and boys study together, they consider the up gender as an equal human being. The presence of opposite gender is a routine matter for them and they don’t feel uncomfortable interacting with each other. The diversity of gender and its acceptance at an early age leads to inclusion as both genders work in collaboration – as per their capacity.

     It also helps clarify different misperceptions they may have about the opposite gender. We have been receiving feedback from many students who studied at the segregated institution. They say their perceptions were changed once they got an opportunity to work with the opposite gender after finishing their universities or colleges.

    At higher education institutions it may lead to successful collaborations as the vision is to excel academically. The result is a positive competition. Coeducation ensures equal opportunity of learning without any discrimination in an economic manner as the quality of education and facilities can be improved in the same infrastructure. There is no need to create separate buildings for male and female students.

    It is very unfortunate that education reforms are usually talked a lot about, but the measures taken for the purpose usually are cosmetic. We have the education policy with various objectives and aims but still, the core issues are hardly addressed and one of the key issues is that the content and methodology at all levels is hardly promoting respect for the opposite gender. Rather, the content is male-dominated.

    Secondly, the faculty members even at higher education institutions keep segregating the learners instead of creating a conducive environment for both genders – and this is unfortunate. We do agree that due to cultural and religious barriers the young students may be vulnerable to certain social evils but again it is the faculty and the institutions which need to promote a collaborative vision-based environment.

    Education reforms must be a priority. However, these educational reforms must also take into account a vision with respect for all genders. Inclusion and pluralism have to be the result of our education reforms. Gender segregation should not be promoted. After all, men and women will come across each sooner or later in their lives. So why not start the journey of understanding at an earlier stage for fruitful collaboration in the society?

    Shagufta Gul
    The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

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