Fu­ture in­vest­ment

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Zee­shan Javaid

ONE child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world. In­deed, what Malala Yousafzai rec­om­mended for the world is true for Pak­istan. Although it is pretty dif­fi­cult to come up with one over­ar­ch­ing pol­icy pro­posal which could help end chron­i­cally en­trenched and pro­foundly in­grained gen­der dis­par­i­ties within our pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, and trans­fig­ure the so­cio­cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal out­look em­bed­ded for ages, in­vest­ing in girls' ed­u­ca­tion would be a sa­ga­cious start.

In Pak­istan, un­for­tu­nately, po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated gov­ern­ment pri­or­i­ties, in­sti­tu­tional weak­nesses, ir­ra­tional poli­cies, and myr­iad so­cio-re­li­gious and cul­tural fac­tors have led to the ex­clu­sion of fe­males. How­ever, keep­ing fe­males un­e­d­u­cated - in­ten­tion­ally or oth­er­wise - has proved to be a glar­ing omis­sion with last­ing reper­cus­sions for in­di­vid­u­als and for the whole of so­ci­ety.

Gen­der equal­ity is a sine qua non for a pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety. The sig­nif­i­cance of fe­male ed­u­ca­tion can­not be overem­pha­sised as it works through mul­ti­ple trans­mis­sion mech­a­nisms in re­duc­ing poverty, spurring eco­nomic growth and putting breaks on pop­u­la­tion growth. Em­pir­i­cal re­search sug­gests that in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion has high pay-offs and ex­pected re­turns are much higher for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

The prospec­tive so­cial div­i­dends of this in­vest­ment are re­mark­able. An ed­u­cated fe­male prefers to marry late and have fewer chil­dren as she places in­creased em­pha­sis on the 'qual­ity' of the child over 'quan­tity'. The op­por­tu­nity cost of child rear­ing for an ed­u­cated mother be­comes higher than a mother with no or lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion be­cause an ed­u­cated woman has bet­ter prospects of get­ting a well-paid job.

De­spite the fact that higher ed­u­ca­tion leads to up­ward re­vi­sion in the ex­pected fu­ture in­come, which may in­crease de­mand for chil­dren, in Pak­istan (with al­ready big­ger fam­ily sizes) the sub­sti­tu­tion ef­fect would out­weigh the in­come ef­fect and this would help re­duce de­mand for chil­dren (help­ing re­duce fer­til­ity and birth rates) as the mother climbs up the ed­u­ca­tion lad­der.

Ed­u­ca­tion is an in­alien­able as­set and this con­sol­i­dates a woman's po­si­tion in the house­hold and in so­ci­ety, en­abling her to own prop­erty, ac­cu­mu­late as­sets, de­cide where to work, whom to vote for, when and whom to marry and how many chil­dren to have. The re­la­tion­ships be­tween women's em­pow­er­ment and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for South Asian coun­tries were in­ves­ti­gated by MIT economist Es­ther Du­flo in 2012 and she es­ti­mated a strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween fe­male lit­er­acy and so­cial well-be­ing in the South Asian re­gion.

It can be in­ferred from con­tem­po­rary re­search and from the suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ence of the de­vel­oped world that in­vest­ing in fe­male ed­u­ca­tion is a safe, se­cure and re­ward­ing in­vest­ment both at the mi­cro and macro level and this in­vest­ment can be as good as in­vest­ing in gold.

Women in Pak­istan face an ex­tremely re­stricted set of so­cio-eco­nomic choices. Per­va­sive il­lit­er­acy among fe­males ren­ders them in­el­i­gi­ble for well-paid jobs, re­duc­ing their ex­pected fu­ture in­comes; par­ents find daugh­ters costly and un­pro­duc­tive and marry them off at an early age. Early mar­riages ex­ac­er­bate fe­male bar­gain­ing power within the house­hold and neg­a­tively af­fect the ed­u­ca­tional prospects of chil­dren, es­pe­cially daugh­ters, who are again the fu­ture moth­ers.

Some re­cent sta­tis­tics help high­light the ex­ist­ing gen­der dis­par­ity in Pak­istan. Sixty per cent fe­males (aged 15-24 years) are il­lit­er­ate while the fe­male ter­tiary gross en­rol­ment rate is 9pc (UNDP, 2007 and 2014).

Gen­der in­equal­ity can be gauged by Pak­istan's rank (141) in a re­cent re­port on gen­der gap for 142 coun­tries (World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, 2014). If we take the poverty line at $2 per day, then half of the coun­try's pop­u­la­tion is poor (World Bank, 2014) and the in­ci­dence of poverty falls dis­pro­por­tion­ately on fe­males. The fe­male (aged 15+) labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate in South Asia has plum­meted to 30pc in 2013, well be­low the par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of 62pc for East Asia and 50pc for the world (Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank, 2015). A woman's as­set own­er­ship and her share in high-paid jobs are dis­tress­ingly low in ur­ban ar­eas, let alone ru­ral Pak­istan. The ac­cu­mu­la­tive losses of ne­glect­ing fe­male ed­u­ca­tion are too big to quan­tify, yet there is no doubt that they en­er­vate eco­nomic growth. All en­com­pass­ing poverty, re­gres­sive de­vel­op­ment in­di­ca­tors, rapid pop­u­la­tion growth, and a high fer­til­ity rate are some of the pal­pa­ble con­se­quences of this gra­tu­itous un­der­in­vest­ment in fe­male ed­u­ca­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tional gen­der equal­ity is a sine qua non for nur­tur­ing an egal­i­tar­ian and pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety. A luke­warm ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy is no longer an op­tion if Pak­istan wants to ac­cel­er­ate and com­pete on the eco­nomic and so­cial fronts with the rest of the world, es­pe­cially with its neigh­bours.

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