In Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most populated cities, a group of 25 mothers meet at a local primary school. They speak animatedly and openly about their children, especially their daughters, and the societal barriers they face. The women are mostly housewives, many of whom have no formal education. They are participating in a monthly Mothers Club organized by Right To Play and it is encouraging them to understand and appreciate their self-worth and the role they have in influencing gender equality and their children’s futures.
“The group is helping me learn to address different challenges for girls in our society,” affirms Khair u Nisa, a mother in the club. “My misconceptions about the rights of girls and gender equality has changed.”
Created in 2015 by Right To Play Pakistan, this club and the handful of others throughout the country are as a support system for mothers, providing a safe space to grow awareness about and teach gender equality. Here, Right To Play coaches lead the women in discussions about education, the cultural expectation for boys to complete their schooling, while girls are required to stay at home, and how this makes the mothers feel. By listening to one another share their thoughts about school absenteeism, the importance of female matriculation and even, their own personal experiences, the women are creating an open and ongoing dialogue and it’s empowering them to take an active interest in their daughters’ education.
“My purpose to join this group was that I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school,” says a mother who requested to be anonymous. “But I want my children to acquire a good education. By being here, in this club, is how I can contribute to this process.”
While gender equality is shifting in Pakistan, change remains slow, Two thirds of the country’s out-of-school children are girls, amounting to over three million girls not in class. When the Mothers Clubs first launched, most parents blamed the country’s education system and its teachers for the poor academic performance of their children, validating the argument that there was little value in girls attending school. Through the clubs however, the perception and value of girls attending school is changing. Their children’s teachers, all trained in Right To Play’s play-based learning approach, regularly join the club meetings, providing the mothers with regular progress reports about their children’s successes and discussing how a play-based and child-centered approach in the classroom is part of the gender solution, creating inclusion for girls and boys and motivating girls to participate in class. In 2016, children in Pakistan schools taught by Right To Play teachers scored 10 per cent higher on standardized tests than children in schools with no Right To Play teachers.
“The mothers are recognizing that they are a key player in decision making for their daughters,” says Noorul, a field facilitator for Right To Play in Karachi. “They are learning and becoming change agents in their homes and communities.”
By discussing a wide range of issues, the mothers in the club are questioning the status quo and educating themselves on topics like, why allowing their daughters to play inside and outside the classroom promotes social inclusion and increased engagement in their studies, and ensuring girls and boys have equal access to clean drinking water and proper bathroom facilities at school. The group discussions and their constructive feedback prepare the mothers for further conversations with their families, elders and communities, giving them the ability to share their knowledge with conviction. These conversations, and learning alongside their peers is fueling the women with the confidence to speak freely and to advocate for gender equality in their own homes and their communities.
“Before becoming a part of the Mothers Club, I never knew that I was strong enough to make decisions for my children’s lives,” says a mother who requested to be anonymous.
The women are even asking their husbands to join them at select Mothers Club meetings. Some of the men are attending. Their collective presence is a huge shift in traditional behaviours and is paving the way to resolve challenges like, fathers allowing their daughters to participate in sports programs.
Currently, in Pakistan, positive gender attitudes have increased by 16 per cent versus five per cent in non-Right To Play schools. For the women in our clubs, self-confidence, communication, self-expression and collaboration are increasing and the mother’s say their relationships with their children are stronger because of it. Equally important, the clubs are modeling for daughters that women and girls can be effective advocates for gender equality.
“I feel empowered and aware after participating in the meetings,” affirms Zahida. “This group has changed my approach towards my children. Now, I do not deal with my daughter differently than my son.”
Right To Play's Play for the Advancement of Quality Education (PAQE) programming launched in 2015 in eight countries, including Pakistan, with financial support from the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.