Amid the global pandemic that has troubled the world from east to west, the credibility of education in Pakistan has been exposed. The governments around the globe have taken steps that are either non-binding or unreachable to most of the students, primarily in under developed and resourceless areas. In Pakistan, the education system has faced many controversies ever since the pandemic has arrived in its borders. Significantly on the reach of internet in rural areas. Most of the Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas where the internet facility is not present. This has provoked students and teachers to hold protests in Balochistan and other rural areas. Isn’t it necessary to question what the government has done to ensure the continuation of education?
Education is one of the most neglected sectors in Pakistan proven by the report of UNICEF that the current literacy rate is below 60 percent. Even before the pandemic, about 24 million children were reported to be out of schools, HEC funds were minimized and education was given little space in the annual budget. This ignorance negates the Pakistan law on education, mainly Article 25A and Article 38(d), which states that the state shall provide education to every citizen.
If the government has already failed to give effect to the law and its constitutional duty before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the question that arises is, how will it give effect to the law and constitution while coping with the troubles for access to education caused by the virus and once the pandemic has ended?
In a world where a communicable virus has proved itself fatal and is responsible for more than half a million deaths, therefore realizing the gravity of the situation Pakistan government announced to close schools. Government took some steps, as the end of the pandemic is still not in sight, the motive is to save the education cycle from any disruption and this transition is worth struggling. Recently, a tele-education channel was launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan to keep the students associated with their education through dedicated lectures for class I to XII. The measures are clearly not enough given the ongoing protests concerning the reach of the education in rural areas.
To analyze the challenges for online learning in Pakistan, particularly during this pandemic, the first step is to factor in all the stakeholders of education. Initially students criticized the move of education ministry in the wake of the issues stemming from quality and connectivity issues but just like any other transformation, developing the capacity of the institutions was going to take time. The drawbacks have been observed that most of the students either do not have a laptop, and internet connection or they have no idea how to use online platforms.
Besides, the idea of equitable education has become dubious with this selection because financially all students are not equal. Most of the challenges are related to our behaviors: the lack of acceptance for online education by students. Similarly, lack of individual space at homes in joint family systems i.e. for families where parents and children both need to work and study from home respectively.
The lack of awareness about digital learning ethics has worsened the situation. First issue is the unavailability of the internet in remote areas which makes the students living in those areas unable to get benefit from online education. The bandwidth limitations across the country, with only a few exceptions, when combined with the increased usage burden on feeble internet infrastructure, add to the misery of most of the students. Another challenge is the expensive high-speed internet. As there is always a silver lining in the clouds, it is high time to see opportunities in these challenging times. For a paradigm shift from traditional teaching towards inclusively effective and equitable e-learning, some of the recommendations include the development of a standard and comprehensive policy for e-learning with the consensus of all the stakeholders alike.
The issues of educational institutes shouldn’t be ignored as well as in Pakistan, tuition fees are the principal source of revenue for the majority of private sector universities and they solely depend on it because the government hardly issues grants to them. But, since many people have lost their jobs and students have applied for waiver in tuition fee and writing off other charges such as clubs, sports and hostel rents, it has become a challenge for universities as well. The government has also forced the universities to give relief to students in payments and to opt for half payments. It has also instructed to pay salaries to the faculty and staff by managing their resources. Likewise, no any employee would be fired from the job as long as there is lockdown imposed in the country. This is quite difficult for universities to survive.
There is a famous proverb, “In every crisis, there is an opportunity”. This is the right time when whole world is in the race to invent the vaccine of COVID-19 we need to think that being a nation where we are standing. Along with the enactment of the recommendations of the health department, we need to paint the situation in a positive manner to our youth in a way that human and viruses are born to live together. Until humanity triumphs with the good vaccine of COVID-19, we must set a plan for students to learn how to work in this weird situation. The new paradigm in the world emphasizes on online education and work from home scenarios that can save time and resources, and is more practical. Hence, we must move with the time or wait for the time to move past us while we are busy in addressing less important issues.
Covid-19 Outbreak: A Compromise on Gender Equality
The pandemic has without doubt affected men and women in a different manner. It has resulted in affecting adversely the economic, social, human rights aspects and with the health of women. Although during the pandemic mostly the concept of women being more adversely affected than men have rarely being discussed. Women who continued to be the marginalised section of society whereby according to the WHO report, “70% of workers in the health and social sectors are women” but a study also says that, “ overall, an average pay gap of 28% exists in the health workforce, once occupation and workforce are accounted for the gender pay gap is 11%. Yet the nurses, childcare workers, care givers to aged and the cleaning staffs continue to be the frontline workers during the times of the global pandemic. The already existing inequalities in the society for women have been intensified whereby even the little gains of the past for women have been maligned. In each and every sphere, women have continued to suffer at greater extents during the Coronavirus outbreak.
The women although the primary caretakers in each and every households and also constitute the frontline workers in health care giving but has meagre say in the policy formulations as they are inadequately represented in the society and community. The women for this reason of being the primary health care providers have greater chances of contracting the disease. Moreover, there have been an adverse effect of coronavirus has resulted in the loss of jobs of various people across countries whose effects also falls on the women of the society. There have also been greater incidences of violence of women in the households by their very partners because of the psychological distress of men of the society. Greater cases of domestic assaults, marital rapes are issues of growing concerns in the societies across nations because of the lockdown periods and the loss of jobs as well as in many cases the decrease in salaries of various male members of the society. Women have been the victim of financial, emotional stress and also of the increasing physical abuses as a result of confinement with abusive partners during these challenging times.
Although women in rural India women have largely been involved in the farming activities yet they hardly get the fruits of their labour in terms of finance but is controlled by male-counterparts in a patriarchal society altogether. In urban areas women may have to handle greater works at home in terms of the care giving or handling household chores during pandemic period which may result in leaving or compromising to leave the jobs in case of the women, which results in reduction in their financial independence in the society. Also, David Evans, Senior Fellow at Centre for Global Development indicated four concerns for women during pandemics: “Sexual health, intimate partner violence, the burden of care and economic crisis.” India has been one of the most dangerous countries in terms of violence against women which have been on the up rise in midst of the upsetting times. There had also been grave situation in regards to the provisions of family planning and other sexual health commodities including the menstrual health products which had adverse effects in terms of its supply during the pandemic situation. Moreover the stereotypical gendered roles of women in the society have been aggravated which needs fastest attention of the policy makers. This has caused adverse mental health effects in women during the pandemic situation. The concerns of women’s rights which have become the greatest during the pandemic can curb the rights and freedoms of women may in turn effect the communities and societies adversely. Antonio Guterres, the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations says, “The unfair and unequal treatment of working women is one reason why I went into politics. In the late 1960s, as a student volunteer doing social work in poor areas of Lisbon, I saw women in very difficult situations, doing menial jobs and carrying the weight of their extended families.”
Although these conditions were a bit improved but the Covid-19 tends to bring these situations back on brunt of the huge economic crises across the globe. Moreover, the pandemic has also resulted in huge number of girls to dropout from schools which were also evident during the Ebola epidemic. There has been also a delay for the women to get back to their work as long as the pandemic continues due to the increase in domestic works as well as the huge responsibilities of health care in the family to children and aged. In these situations, women are also having adverse effects in terms of their reproductive health services whereby there has been a staunch increase in the maternal and neo-natal mortality. Due to fear of contracting the virus in places of health care facilities there have been greater risk for both mothers and the child. The situation becomes graver when pregnant women contract the disease. “ In March,2020, World Health Organisation issued guidance for maintaining essential services during an outbreak, which included advice to prioritise services related to reproductive health and make efforts to avert maternal and child morbidity and mortality.” In many of the backward countries of the world the basic places of receiving healthcare facilities were shut because of the pandemic situation.
Its time the world also gives an eye to the gender sensitive view of the Covid-19 pandemic. There should be more and more public policy representatives who are women so that it can represent the gender specific needs of women during this time of the pandemics. Legal procedures should be more stringent in taking quick actions and steps in regard to violence against women in various parts of the world. “UNESCO estimated that the pandemic was preventing 1.52 billion children from attending school.” This results in women facing greater abuses and also issues like early marriage. Loss of work have adverse implications for women in the society as they in turn become again a part of the unpaid labour force or a worker in some unorganised sector. Hence, it is the dire need of the governments across the world to give a serious focus on the issues faced by women during the pandemic and also commit themselves to escalate their precarious condition in the society as well as each and every community as it compromises with the rights and dignities of human beings especially women.
Iranian regime: Male Gods and Oppressed Women
The patriarchal world was formed as a result of several historical processes. These ancient processes served to dominate men, denying women any authority in society. In this system, enhancing the man’s social position and physical power prepared conditions for psychological, social, and biological exploitation of women, resulting in deprivation of them from social, political, economic, and cultural activities. The development of the patriarchal religions and philosophy was prominent in regulating of this mentality. So, the male Gods replaced the female ones. The status of women declined based on religious rules by the powers as a law of their governments. Therefore, based on the process of the formation of patriarchy throughout history, we can see the fact of sexualized unfair government in Iran is administrated by the patriarchal rules and Sharia law that violates women’s rights.
The situation Iranian women have been formed due to the combination of the two factors, religious rules, and Traditional patriarchal beliefs, especially after the Islamic Revolution. They are exposed to discrimination not only from the social but also from a legal standpoint. Presently the women have undergone the violence in the home and social life. In his writings, Ayatollah Murtaza Motahari has determined new roles and duties for the Iranian women by the Islamic rules in comparison with the West. Still, we know that women across the country are exposed to discrimination and unfairness by the religious government as the consequence of Islamization.
Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters have established a state resting upon the traditional Islamic rules. So, the women were transformed into the stratum subjected to all restrictions, whose rights are exploited in an authoritarian regime. The women considered as protectors of the Islamic ethics are exposed to many law violations by the state in social life. Ayatollah Khomeini had appeared with a declaration in 3 weeks after the revolution in connection with the obligatory veil. The government issued an order on the women to put on the Islamic hijab. The women being against the new mode of wearing have to be punished severely. The women objecting to the compulsory hijab and black veil in many big cities were exposed to encroachment and attacks by knife and armed men and women supporting Hezbollah. Even some women were executed by shooting slandered as prostitutes. So, beginning from the 1980s, all women employed by the state authorities were obliged to wear a black veil. The black veil has been defined as the symbol of the Islamic government and the sign of independence for the Muslim women that they had to wear in public areas and workplaces. Contrary to the ideological thinking of government officials, the hijab restricted women’s freedom.
Moreover, the Islamic regime’s pressures on women are still intense. The women have imposed a ban upon the sportive activity that can engage only in some kinds of sport determined by the government. The majority of women have driven away from politics and working in governmental institutes. The doors of the press and entertainment centers have been closed to the face of women. ّFor instance, Thousands of female teachers, state officials, and other women employed on the different specialization were forcedly fired from their jobs. According to the statistics, about 40 thousand female teachers were dismissed from the work between 1980-1985s. In the media, schools, and universities of Iran, only the rights and duties were determined beforehand by the state. For example, the high school manuals represented the women to bring up children and cooking. In the present, also women do not have any rights to watch main sports competitions as well as soccer, volleyball, basketball in the stadiums with men. Nowadays, females cannot ride the bike in public areas. The government has turned gender discrimination into a profound issue in society and has banned the relationships between men and women. The Islamic regime justified all these restrictions to the people as the order of the religion and divine law. Consequently, the imposed constraints by the government have been ruining women’s lives for more than 40 years in Iran.
Additionally, the Iranian government has legalized violations of women’s rights in its religious-based law and Constitution. The rights of the heritage, inheritance, divorce, marriage, and so on have been provided for men rather than women. Also, inside the family, the women have no right to engage in any activity without the permission of their father, brother, and other male relatives. Furthermore, to have a passport, her father, brother, or husband of a woman have to issue written permission certified in the public notary office. These discriminations are reflected in criminal law as well. After the Islamic revolution that the conservative forces have grasped the power, these laws became more severe. Because of the discriminative law against women, we can acknowledge that the women in Iranian society are considered second-class citizens. In fact, Sharia law has had adverse effects on women’s empowerment and development in Iran.
Overall, the regime insists on violating women’s rights, and no serious reforms have been made since 1979. The change of the government and the establishment of the democratic state is the only way to provide women rights. It needs a systematic and widespread peaceful struggle against the regime that should be accompanied by the awareness of the women.
Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale. The Antonio Guterres Edition
On July 18, 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a memorial lecture in honour of the great South African leader Nelson Mandela. The Secretary-General’s speech was clearly intended as a policy statement and designed to provoke a wide response. Guterres outlined “a new social contract” and “a new global deal” that are to replace the current international and even universal social order.
Inequality as the Principal Problem
Guterres was scathing in his criticism of the current world order, comparing the coronavirus pandemic to “an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built.” The pointed accusatory pathos of his speech would have been better suited to a silver-tongued preacher or a radical youth leader than to a member of the top political elite who has headed the most representative and influential international organization for the past three and a half years. The coronavirus is “exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: the lie that free markets can deliver healthcare for all; the fiction that unpaid care work is not work; the delusion that we live in a post-racist world; the myth that we are all in the same boat.”
The pandemic has set humanity back years, if not decades, plunging the world into its worst recession since World War II. Guterres believes that, as a consequence, entire continents will be doomed to hardships, poverty and even famine. Social and economic inequality is growing at an accelerated pace: the financial assets of the world’s 26 wealthiest people already equal the combined assets of half of the rest of the world. Glaring inequality feeds corruption, provokes financial and economic crises, fuels crime and causes epidemics. The number of risk groups is expanding rapidly and includes refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples and minorities of all kinds that are discriminated against and exploited. Inequality breeds political and religious radicalism, social cataclysms, destructive international conflicts, and civil wars.
The coronavirus pandemic introduces new dimensions to the issue of inequality: rich patients have higher chances of receiving quality COVID-19 treatment, and the Global North is better prepared for the pandemic than the Global South. The long-term economic and social consequences of this upheaval will also differ for individual social, professional, ethnic, and other groups.
What are the roots of inequality in the world? For Antonio Guterres, the answer is very clear: colonialism and patriarchy. The Global North is responsible for the shameful history of colonialism, whereby it established its centuries-long economic and political dominance of the Global South. Even though many decades have passed since the decolonization process concluded, the historical legacy of the colonial era has not been overcome. This legacy makes itself felt on a regular basis as everyday racism, institutional racism, the rise of “white supremacy,” the system of the international division of labour and global trade and the distribution of the rights and responsibilities of individual states within the global political system.
The patriarchal system that we live in today is the result of the traditional “male-dominated culture,” which for millennia has discriminated against and humiliated women. While great strides have been made in women’s rights (just like decolonialization has brought certain successes), it would be premature to say that we have finally resolved the gender issues that haunt our societies. The UN Secretary-General called himself a “proud feminist” and reported that “gender parity” has been achieved in top UN jobs (let us note parenthetically that, in 2016, he took the office that many UN members believed should have rightly gone to a female candidate).
So how will the “New Global Deal” advanced by the UN Secretary-General benefit the world? First of all, it promises to achieve social harmony by overcoming inequality – gender inequality, social inequality, racial inequality and inequality between states and continents. The “New Global Deal” is an instrument for establishing egalitarian humanism, where access to quality education, healthcare, food and water, decent jobs and social security is an integral part of our fundamental human rights and is not determined by an individual’s income or family wealth.
Guterres’s ideal and goal is to create a global community where people of any origin, country, ethnicity, social standing or gender can and should fully realize their potential to the benefit of all humankind. The UN Secretary-General supports the idea of universal medical insurance and universal basic income. In general, the world that looms on the horizon follows the principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”
Antonio Guterres and Ivan Yefremov
Reading Antonio Guterres’s speech, I was, for some reason, reminded of the leading Soviet sci-fi author Ivan Yefremov’s famous utopian novel Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale, which depicts a remote communist future. The world of Ivan Yefremov, just like the world of Antonio Guterres, is a world of egalitarian humanism. One’s place of residence, family status, gender and race have absolutely no meaning for Yefremov’s characters. They are all a thing of the distant past. Humankind has successfully overcome the cult of excessive consumption, and basic human needs for education, healthcare, welfare, social status, etc. are guaranteed by birthright.
This world is populated by beautiful, strong, somewhat poster-like people who have virtually no human weaknesses. For them, the meaning of life lies mostly in the arts and sciences and other elevated forms of self-realization. Personally, Yefremov’s utopian society has always seemed somewhat cold and uninviting, but in any case, it is much preferable to the current chaotic state of the global society.
Of course, one cannot suspect Antonio Guterres of directly borrowing Ivan Yefremov’s ideas. I doubt that the Portuguese statesman has ever read Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale or any of the Soviet sci-fi author’s novels, for that matter. Additionally, the concept of a “New Global Deal,” unlike Yefremov’s utopia, is not entirely communist. Guterres’s egalitarian world does have a private sector, but it is radically different from the one we have today.
First, the “New Global Deal” would involve significantly raising taxes for big businesses throughout the world, eliminating financial loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid paying taxes. Second, the private sector would switch its focus from making profits to social responsibility. Guterres is an ardent supporter of restoring the trade union movement in order to balance the relations between labour and capital. On the whole, one gets the impression that the UN Secretary-General sees the Northern European social state as the optimal state model.
How can global social harmony be achieved? Take education, for example. In order to overcome global inequality in education, we need to at least double the spending in this sector in the Global South, to USD 3 trillion annually. Clearly, the South does not have that kind of money, it can only come from the North. But in addition to education, we need to think about healthcare, infrastructure development, the “green economy” and gender inequality, where the South still lags significantly behind the North.
Essentially, the UN Secretary-General is calling for a revolution – if by revolution we mean a historically compressed process of a radical redistribution of economic resources and political power. The “New Global Deal” is focused on transferring resources and power not from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat within individual states, as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had suggested, but from the rich North to the poor South. That is, the collective North is the nasty “global bourgeoisie,” while the collective South has the honourable role of the “global proletariat.”
The redistribution of power presupposes the reform of international institutions created mostly by the Global North, including changes to the top management of the United Nations, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund. The redistribution of resources means restructuring the international debt accumulated by the Global South, writing them off at least partially, increasing financial aid programmes for developing states and changing the terms of global trade so that the South will gradually move up global value chains.
Just like the classics of Marxism-Leninism idealized the proletariat and demonized the bourgeoisie, the UN Secretary-General idealizes the South and demonizes the North. Appealing in 2020 to the dark colonial legacy as the principal cause of the backwardness of developing states is only slightly more convincing than explaining the current archaic nature of Russian politics by the pernicious legacy of serfdom. The experience of post-colonial development is too variegated for such generalizations. For instance, South Korea experienced decades of extremely harsh Japanese colonial rule, and then the totally destructive war of 1950–1953. Nevertheless, almost no one would call South Korea a backward state today, or a victim of its colonial past.
Antonio Guterres has brought his many years of experience as a European social democrat to the activities of the United Nations. This experience certainly remains relevant today. However, the attempts of European social democrats over the years to resolve gender, social or global problems by mechanically redistributing resources have repeatedly demonstrated their limitations. It is no coincidence that European social democracy today is going through a clear identity crisis. To prepare the next edition of Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale, the UN Secretary-General should find a co-author with a radically different experience, someone like Elon Musk.
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