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Why Women Quit Education To Get Married

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Ailia Zehra tries to find out why a significant number of women at the college and university level in Pakistan discontinue their education due to marriage, and how this dropout rate can be cut. The deeply ingrained patriarchal notion that women’s marriage is more important than their education is a major factor in them quitting.

The practice of early marriages is one of the several reasons why women students in Pakistan have to discontinue their education. According to statistics, female dropout rate in Pakistan is higher than that of male students because of a number of factors including, but not limited to, gender discrimination at home i.e. preference to son’s education.

Oftentimes girls have to drop out of university when their parents can no longer afford to pay their tuition fees. And in cases where the parents have to choose between their son’s education and that of their daughter, most usually choose the former. The daughter is told that she does not need that degree because her ultimate destination is her husband’s home.

But it’s not always the lack of resources that results in a girl leaving her degree unfinished. Some girls drop out of their own will – even if they are privileged enough to continue their studies.

Because even in educated middle class families, girls are made to feel that their success depends on the kind of man they end up getting married to. Subsequently, they can’t bring themselves to focus on education or a career path and remain obsessed with marriage so they can lead a secure and stable life.

“My degree ends in two years, but his family says they can’t wait that long. My mother has told them to let me finish this semester and then they’ll fix the wedding date”, says Saleha, 21, who is currently pursuing a Bachelors’ degree and was engaged to her cousin a year ago. Despite her desire to finish her studies before getting married, she has surrendered to her family’s wishes and will soon drop out of the university and start with the wedding preparations.

A lot is rightly said on the need for making education accessible for girls and women, but little emphasis is laid on making girls unlearn the deeply ingrained patriarchal notion that their marriage is more important than their education.

Most girls in middle class families are conditioned to think of their wedding day as if it would be the single most important milestone in their lives. This is why even after reaching university, all they can think about is getting a good rishta so they can live “happily ever after”.

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Even girls studying in prestigious and seemingly ‘elitist’ colleges and universities seem to think this way. The education system fails to teach them that this thought is absurd and has no place in 21st century.

But with the recent wave of feminist activism in Pakistan, has this patriarchal mindset among young women changed? I spoke to a bunch of young women students to try and get an answer to this question.

“Sometimes when I feel there is too much pressure because of studies, I wish I could just quit and get married so I don’t have to worry about my grades and deadlines”, admits Maleeha, 22, who is enrolled in the first year of a Bachelor’s programme. “But then it occurs to me that if I’m not educated enough, I would be easily subjugated by my in-laws and this stops me from quitting”, she adds.

Maleeha further shares that she has been following the social media debate about the Aurat March held on Women’s Day. “After looking at the way most men were offended by the slogans raised at the march, I am convinced that there is something wrong with how they treat women. It seems they only like submissive women who never say no to them,” she opines.

Maleeha admits that before the Aurat March debate she never put in much thought into the issue of women liberation and freedom, but now she often thinks it’s important for women to have the right to make their own decisions.

Faiza, 24, recently got married – but she had to quit education despite the fact that she was only left with the final phase of the degree: defending her thesis before a jury. “It was my dholki (pre-wedding musical event) on the day we were supposed to appear before the jury. My family said there is no need for it anymore because my husband will now take care of all my needs. They told me this degree would be useless.”

Faiza did not show up for the thesis defence, as a result of which the four years of education that she had successfully completed, went to waste. She says she cried a day later when she saw her former classmates’ Facebook statuses about how they successfully defended their theses.

“Every time I read a post from one of my classmates about the thesis defence which they cleared and I could not, I felt gutted”, she says.

Aarfa, a teacher to undergraduates, says women usually drop out when they are at a crossroads and their two options are either to choose their education or marriage. “I have seen instances where some of the brightest girls had to discontinue their degree after they were married off in a haste”, she says, but suggests a solution to the issue.

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“If the in-laws allow, girls are able to continue their education after marriage. It mostly depends on the mother-in-law”, she says, adding that she has been teaching her women students who go through this dilemma to have a word with their future mothers-in-law and convince them to let them continue their studies.

She says when the mother-in-law is supportive, the girls’ husbands don’t have a problem either. “But if in-laws are not taken into confidence beforehand, they often create hurdles for the woman. Even if they don’t directly stop her, the burden of household work – if not shared – makes it difficult for the woman and she eventually gives up.”

Maryam, 24, got married two years ago when she was still pursuing her Bachelors’ degree and has an 8-months-old daughter. She graduated last month and received commendations from both teachers and fellow students for finishing her degree despite the odds.

 

“I had to sit for the final exams a month after I gave birth. My friends suggested I skip the exams saying I needed to take care of my health after giving birth but I knew I cannot let my hard work go in vain”, she said.

She shared how she had clearly told her husband that the degree is important for her and she would complete it, come what may. “He was very supportive and appreciated the thought. My mother had also spoken to my in-laws about my wish to continue my education after getting married so they agreed to it.”

It has been quite a challenge to educate women in Pakistan, but with the recent steps aimed at promotion of girls’ education and elimination of gender discrimination, some progress is certainly visible now. However, the mindset that sees women’s education as unimportant and secondary also needs to be changed if we are to ensure the women complete their education and don’t quit midway.  Counselling and government-led awareness campaigns can prove to be helpful in this regard.

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