Jun 12 2009

Where Does Religion Fit In? … And other questions I have to answer

by at 11:35 pm under Uncategorized

I had hoped to start this last blog more confident in my final paper and with a clear idea of where I’d be heading as I look at girls’ education in Pakistan. Alas, writing this post has forced me to admit I still feel quite lost on my paper. Ever since I hit on a paper topic, I’ve read our readings with an eye toward “how will this help my paper?” and, more often than not, felt like I was missing something.

Although I still feel adrift, now I see more connections than before, namely that it is key to turn seemingly disadvantages into advantages. I’ve come to believe this is of the utmost importance when it comes to religion’s influence in Pakistan.

First, a reminder of my paper topic – I’m looking at how creating and strengthening networks helped establish accepted, thriving girls’ schools in Pakistan and how those networks helped spin off further development projects in communities. I’ve identified three potential disadvantages that must be used as an advantage to create thriving educational opportunities for girls in Pakistan: religion and extremism, the country’s government and security concerns.


My hang up all along was that our authors gave little, if any, consideration to religion. Religion is the institution with perhaps the most sway in Pakistan and religious leaders can make or break a girls’ school’s chance of success. Although it should be clear that religion and extremism clearly are not the same, in Pakistan or anywhere else, turning religion into an advantage must involve acknowledging extremism as well.

Engaging Islamic religious leaders – who are clearly also opinion leaders in most areas – is vital to establish girls’ education. Many Pakistanis consider educating girls contrary to Islam and would be reassured of its acceptability with the support of religious leaders. Moderate Muslim leaders have been critical in promoting other development situations in the past, including calls for better health care.

People in the West may see Muslim leaders as a disadvantage because certain have spoken out against educating girls, and the legacy of the Taliban remains as a scourge on the region. However, a larger moderate base exists and should be tapped into first when trying to establish girls’ education – it shows respect and realism about how Pakistan operates.

This is clearly a local issue because few religious leaders speak for the entire country. Pakistanis would want to hear from leaders they know, trust and respect. Moreover, approaching girls’ education on a local level allows communities to establish control over the process and bend it to their needs.

Pakistan’s Government:

Map of Pakistan

Map of Pakistan

Pakistan’s government is, to put it mildly, not doing well. Faced with security threats, inner turmoil and ongoing terror acts, the government is stretched thin and may not be the best partner in attempting to establish girls’ education. The government can lend its sway, where it exists, to the idea of girls’ education, however.

The government should not try a countrywide approach because, as we know from common sense and our readings, operating on a local level is important. Instead, the government should use its position to reiterate support for educating girls and promote education as a whole. Then it could apply hierarchical pressure on lower levels of government to do likewise. By doing this, the government exerts its influence without putting too many resources it cannot spare into the issue.

Security Concerns and Terror:

An editorial cartoon on Pakistan\'s security, via www.apakistannews.com
Finally, we come to security and terror, two issues that stymie Pakistan’s growth, safety and prosperity. I’ll admit, I don’t know how to turn this into an advantage. In fact, terrorists may specifically target girls’ schools simply for existing. How could such a thing become an advantage?

Still, it is a reality and is an obstacle impeding development. Most likely, security concerns cannot actually be turned into an advantage for girls’ education, but are a factor to be mitigated as much as possible. I have more thinking to do about how to best accomplish this as it relates specifically to my paper.

So there you have it. I have a lot of work to complete before June 30, but I don’t feel as lost as I did a few days ago. Things are starting to click for me and I’m hoping that by devoting some serious time in the coming days to this paper, I’ll stumble on a few brilliant ideas that will help the notion of networks creating educational opportunities come alive.

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