Gender Segregation at Schools and Pakistan’s Future

Pakistan Feminism

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”“I’m in the school on the other side of the street Juliet. See you after classes!”

And thus Romeo and Juliet were separated by the evil school authorities who viewed mixing as detrimental to education. Juliet, after completing her high schooling, was married off to her 2nd cousin with whom she had an awkward relationship for the rest of her life and sought solace in watching Indian TV serials all day. Romeo married a girl of his mom’s choice and became a wife-beater, never really understanding why the girl wanted to step out of home and not stay in the kitchen.

OK, so the above situation would not be entirely dependent on the assumption that the two attended single-sex schools. However an increasing amount of research has pointed out a few key facts:

  • 1.       There is no academic, or otherwise, benefit of single-sex schooling
  • 2.       Single-sex schooling greatly increases the likelihood of gender bias amongst students

The first reason doesn’t give us any motivation to side with one form of schooling or another. If children are doing well in both cases, then so be it and leave it to the parents to decide what kind of environment they want their children to grow up in (although one study has found that the higher the percentage of girls in a co-ed classroom, the better the academic performance for all students – both male and female).
Now advocates of single-sex education might claim that girls and boys need to be kept apart is that male and female brains are hardwired differently and hence have dissimilar learning styles. This has largely been debunked by neuroscientists. 

The second reason is much is of much more concern especially in the current scenario in Pakistan. As Lynn S. Liben, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and Education, Penn State puts it in her research paper: ‘”The choice to fight sexism by changing coeducational practices or segregating by gender has parallels to the fight against racism. The preponderance of social science data indicated that racially segregated schools promote racial prejudice and inequality.”
Now here is why it becomes important for us. The majority of Pakistanis want a society in which women can work side by side with their male counterparts. Empowered women are beneficial to the Pakistani economy and society and this is what anyone, who truly wants the their country to develop, would strive to achieve. What would this look like though?

In an empowered society, women would not merely be child production machines nor prisoned to their homes. They would not face wide-scale harassment and feel protected in society which largely has to do with a change of attitude in the Pakistani Male specimen aka launda on street. This brings me back to the schooling system.
Those children, who end up studying in single-sex classrooms, will one day live and work side-by-side with members of the opposite sex. This is already a problem because these students will have had limited opportunity to work cooperatively and coexist successfully with members of the opposite sex. Real life is not separated by gender, and young people need to learn, work, and play in all different kinds of situations, with all sorts of different people. Mixed School Education provides an opportunity for students of different sexes to learn from each other. These lessons are some of the most important that schools teach. Single-sex education goes in the wrong direction, by reducing real diversity in education. Some studies even point to the fact that boys who spend more time only with other boys become increasingly aggressive. Who knew those guys burning tires and damaging public property during protests were just boys who spent too much time with each other!

Couple all that with the fact that stereotypes are being enforced into the minds of these kids and we’ll end up with a cycle of thinking which consists of believing that platonic relationships do not exist, women and men are different in intellect and other prejudiced line of thought. Lack of interaction with the opposite sex will lead to a greater inability of being able to communicate and develop better relationships with each other. Believe me people; I spent my early years in Saudi. Talking to girls was so scary that I’d turn into a complete stuttering fool in front of them. I think at least three of them dated me out of pity thinking I’m a special needs person!

Now currently Pakistan isn’t exactly a heaven for women. After all we’re in the top 5 of the worst places in the world for women (Don’t worry overzealous patriot, India is on the list as well. Score: Pakistani Ego 1, Millions of Women’s Lives 0!). A lot of these atrocities stem from the simple lack of experience of interacting in a healthy society. In a ‘normal’ society a man might flirt and woo a female and perhaps have his ego bruised if turned down following which he would move on to another female. In our society, the male will stalk, threaten and bully the female and, God forbid if she turns him down, might throw acid on her face.

By no means am I advocating that a simple move to mixed schooling will solve all of the problems for women in Pakistan. However, our schools and education system need to become the driving force behind changing the role of women. Segregation based on race or gender is wrong. You can help your child to be more comfortable in their roles by allowing them to interact with each other in positive environments.

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