Pashtunwali and female Education

Published on – January 4, 2019 – 11:47 pm
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Nationwide history of conservative societies, girls’ education has been a contested social, economic, political, and religious emergence in the Pashtun-region. Studies suggest that the primary causes of this gender gulf are multifarious and tangled. Poverty, the lower rank of women in society, and socio-cultural issues coupled with poor access to schools, security, transportation, and lack of female teachers. Two decades of ceaseless war and conflict, extremism and the introduction of rigid cultural and religious ideologies have further complicated and exaggerated the issue of gender justice in education.


Nationwide history of conservative societies, girls’ education has been a contested social, economic, political, and religious emergence in the Pashtun-region. Studies suggest that the primary causes of this gender gulf are multifarious and tangled. Poverty, the lower rank of women in society, and socio-cultural issues coupled with poor access to schools, security, transportation, and lack of female teachers. Two decades of ceaseless war and conflict, extremism and the introduction of rigid cultural and religious ideologies have further complicated and exaggerated the issue of gender justice in education.
Besides, the dismal figures vis-à-vis female literacy rate can be ascribed to narrow interpretation of Islamic principles with respect to female education, according to which it is believed that educating a girl is considered a luxury or fruitless. There is also the Pashthun code of life, indigenously known as pashthunwali.
It is a way of life with some unique characteristics and is based solely on patriarchal values. In Pashthunwali, although there is outright respect for women but they cannot play an active role in society. Since Pashthunwali is about patriarchy, hence females instead of occupying space for themselves in mainstream society have to support males in upholding this code of life by following all that is expected from them in the tribal culture, and keeping intact the so-called “honour” of male members of their family. Ever, this is what is expected from all women in the pashtoon context in across the belt.
Moreover, Pashtunwali is also conceived and regarded as the tribal code according to which men’s honor and the pride of family and clan replace many other priorities. That it is a substantial barrier to girls’ education. Indicated that Pashtunwali is often discussed in the context of girls’ education.As discussed earlier, Pashtunwali, Pashtuns’ code of living, is a critically important aspect of their social structure. Some still consider women’s place in society is “either Kor [home] or Gor [grave].” Pashtuns are very sensitive to women’s image and identity. Sometimes they will not take their wives to the hospital because other men may be able to see them. Pashtuns do not even like to say the names of their wives or daughters in public. If they have to mention their names in government offices or hospitals for identification purposes, they will first look around to make sure no other man is within hearing before they whisper the name, according to Pashtunwali, a woman’s life is centered in the home. She has predefined roles and responsibilities: homemaking, food preparation, and childbearing, which do not support her education. The old traditions of Pashtuns [Pashtunwali] compel Pashtuns to do such things [restrict her schooling.]. He does not let her go out. She is stuck inside. This is embedded culture of the Pashtuns. If a man is seen doing women’s work, he is taunted by his family and friends. A man is not supposed to work in the kitchen, take care of children or do cleaning work at home.In mountainous areas, you know, water has to be brought from the outside. It is the job of women to bring water. If a man does it, then he is bullied and called various types of insulting names. They use a particular word for such a man: khazoonak [women’s puppet]. So people will say “Boy, what a khazoonak.” So women bring the water, firewood. Women harvest crops. If a girl goes to school and then comes home to do her homework, then she can’t do these things.
In Pashtun society, particularly in rural areas, the realities of a woman’s deprivations are manifested even before her birth because the girl child is not a particularly “wanted” child. Once in this world, her life may be a journey of suffering and continuous discrimination. According to traditional culture, from a girl’s earliest age, men start practicing their significant role in the most imperative issues of her life, ranging from education to selection of her husband. After marriage, her husband and in-laws may take control of her life. They could decide, for example, the number of children she will have, her role in the community and her limits in seeking education or employment.
Women in these communities are often the first to rise and the last to go to sleep; when there is little food, they may go hungry. Thus, the word woman in Pashtun society is synonymous with “obedience” and “loyalty.” She simply must accept certain harsh realities of a patriarchal society. As described, The ideal Pashtun woman is a model of virtue, chastity and loyalty. She is supposed to live according to predominant social norms, cultural values, and the tribal code.
barriers to girls’ education are as poverty, the Pashtunwali code, religion, accessibility, resources, shortage of female teachers, curriculum, and lack of political inclination. Although religion stands out as a crucial element of the Pashtun sociocultural and political environment, the Pashtunwali code also exercise significant influence, especially in rural, tribal areas.
when(female) face is seen by the public, (especially in public), it is a huge challenge. The challenges start with the family, relatives, tribe and then the masses.”
The woman has to make sure she remains serious at all times, for laughing loudly (culturally and especially religiously) is perceived as inappropriate and ‘un-womanly.’ She stops attending social gatherings in order to draw less attention to herself. She has to watch what she wears, ensuring that she complies with what is considered “modest” in the Pashtun culture, even if she doesn’t necessarily wear a Burqa (a cloth that Pashtun women wear to cover themselves).
Finally, she refrains from making jokes, especially with fellow male colleagues for fear that it may pave the way for sexual harassment, or worse.
Consequently, it does not come as a surprise why the number of Pashtun women’s presence in the education is exceptionally limited. This negativity around women’s appearance in the education or others related activities are mainly evident on ground realities.
Pashtun women hope for change of any sort onward in terms of educational advancements?
Well, I personally believe that change begins at home, and men’s perception about women’s sole place as being limited to the household arena needs to change.
The fact that many Pashtuns are accustomed to seeing the woman as the housewife and the man as the breadwinner makes it very difficult to break loose from such culturally instilled norms; it limits their capacity to look beyond the patriarchal box. Thus, to see a woman in education is more than often perceived as alien and confounding, because it is something that they have never seen before.
Some Pashtun men are conditioned with the belief that a woman should be covered at all times; that no man should ever see her and that her only purpose in life is to cook, clean and bear kids.
Thereupon, the sole way change can happen is through education and awareness. Those Pashtuns, who strongly oppose women desiring in education, need to understand that just because a woman has chosen education as her desire to change the set longstanding norms. There are women who are genuinely zealous about getting education, and some have achieved and set their positions based on merit.
“I do feel that education does empower females. It is an opportunity to raise issues and talk about topics that are considered taboo in our society. After getting education, someone could find the confidence to raise such topics and spark a debate which in itself is empowering, Although I realise that negative perceptions around Pashtun women getting education won’t change overnight, women shouldn’t have to be abstained from doing something that they’re passionate about.
With time, I am hoping that more Pashtun women will obtain the courage to proceed their dreams, regardless of what others perceive of them.
Despite the fact that, to overcome opposition to girls’ education, it is vital to understand Pashtunwali norms and values, and to strategically use cultural institutions to leverage support for gender justice. Three historically established, highly respected institutions of the Pashtun community could be useful in this regard: the men’s guest house (hujra), council of elders (jirga), and mosque (jumaat).
Hujra, a central spot for gatherings of village men, is the most appropriate place to initiate conversations about extending education initiatives for girls. “The best way to discuss girls’ education is to sit in the hujra and win the confidence of the elders of the village.” The jirga is another esteemed institution in the Pashtun tribes. The jirga norms and decision-making processes define indigenous ways that Pashtuns argue and resolve social, economic, and political issues at villages, tribal and regional levels. Therefore, the jirga could provide a powerful platform to engage community elders in addressing issues of gender justice. Jirga members would possess meaningful authority in community discussions about girls’ education by virtue of their cultural and religious standing.