Role model – a person you aspire to be, a person you look up to, an individual that may or may not have influenced the world at large but has influenced you.
Role models serve as an example that if you work hard enough, in this often unfair world where the odds are almost never in your favor (yes, I used a Hunger Games reference) you can be recognized for trying to make a difference. More importantly, however, you can be recognized for making that difference.
A role model is by no means perfect. They make mistakes, have flaws, but despite their apparent short comings, role models have one thing in common – they motivate the individual to better themselves by stepping outside the traditional boxed mindset of the world.
Despite contrary beliefs, living in Pakistan I have many female role models: my mother, Fatima Jinnah, Nergis Mavalvala, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy - even Maria. B makes the list- and many, many more.
Now you may be thinking these women all belong to different periods in history, are a merge of past, present, future and have entirely different backgrounds and fields in which they have excelled. From politics to fashion designing. So, how can one person have such a diverse range of role models?
My answer is simple. The commonality that all these ladies hold, and the value that I cherish the most, is the fact that they broke stereotypical barriers in society and the international community. They did this by not only questioning the status quo related to the role of women in society but, making a reference to Taylor Swift, by “[building] a castle out of all the bricks [society threw at them]” when it said “no, you cannot do that”. Well, these women went ahead and did it anyway; and in doing so succeeded not only the men in the field, but the community at large.
That is why on a personal level I find it very upsetting to discover many Pakistani female scientists featured in the curriculum just do not exist! The educational curriculum in Pakistan does not list or name ANY female scientists as examples or role models. This is true whether the subject is Pakistan Studies, History or even Social Studies. Something I find particularly horrific is the fact that not only government schools, but both private and public sector schools as well, exclude biographies, names, and achievements of Pakistani female scientists from their syllabus.
This saddening fact resulted in me interviewing a few primary and secondary school teachers and asking them the gut wrenching question
- Why doesn't the education system feature female scientists in curriculum or education syllabus?
Mariam Khan had this to say –
“The historical absence of women in mainstream scientific records because of their gender ineligibility leaves young girls unaware of great female scientists who they can look up to or idolize. Science textbooks are found to convey gender biases through images of boys/men in white lab-coats or also the gender bias language found such as "him/he". When girls are developing their interests in school, it becomes clear that science is a boys-only subject. Textbooks also fail to mention female scientists, which can be understood by the historical absence of acknowledging women within the science academia. The mention of accomplished female scientists in textbooks can help encourage women to develop a passion in science subjects.”
Shafaf Kayani - A teacher at "Kids and Co" play and preschool had this to say -
" They ( Female scientists) are not included on the basis that their scientific works and research are not promoted and are undermined. It is believed that students must be aware of the men scientists and their works because of a certain mindset. This mindset not only undermines the female scientists and their contributions to science but also undermines the interest of female students.
Never in my teaching experience I have heard a female saying she wants to be a scientist."
Just a quick point to note:
Before everyone goes on a bashing rant that Pakistan is the only nation to completely isolate women scientists from the educational syllabus let me be clear that this is not the case.
Firstly, although many developed nations such as United States of America, Russia, China and Canada may include female scientists in curriculum, the current space that is being given to female scientists in the curriculum could further be expanded.
In comparison to the developed world, Pakistan may not give voice to female scientists in its curriculum, however, this is partly rectified by teachers in normal class room discussions. Oftentimes in these discussions Tasneem Zehra Hussain, Doctor Saima Rasheed and Professor Bina Shaheen Siddiqui become frequent names.
In fact, at the recent Froebel’s graduating class of 2016 the guest speaker invited by the school was Professor Bina Shaheen Siddiqui. This example was just of a high school. As a further example of this, The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) has an article titled “Women in Science” in their "I R Nustian" blog made by their NUST Science Society which highlights the roles of women in science.
This in itself illustrates that the gaps which exist in terms of school curriculum are being ameliorated while exchanging general knowledge in class discussions between student and teacher. Therefore, the vacuum in the educational syllabus criteria is by no means reflective of the statement that female scientists in Pakistan are not valued. In actuality, one of the greatest assets we, as citizens of Pakistan, possess are our female scientists and their exemplary achievements in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Moreover, we are living in a world where people learn and interact mainly via social media. In many Pakistani universities students get exposure to Pakistani female scientists and their work via blogs, national newspaper articles and other social media platforms such as twitter, Facebook, slide-share presentations and so on.
For example, the blog “Speech of Pakistan” has an article dedicated to elaborating and glorifying the female scientist success stories of our society. This goes to show that the educational curriculum in Pakistan is no longer generic in nature ( at least on a university level). This pointedly, given that a student is allowed to study and explore different role models and success stories which may sidetrack from the traditional bandwagon of conventional topics, people and field/s of study. Then why are there no female Scientists in Curriculum for the young minds of Pakistan to take inspiration from?
Some of you readers may think I am exaggerating or sugar coating the importance our government gives in respecting and honoring our female scientist, and it may very well be true. The syllabus in Pakistan does not represent or list female scientists and their contributions. However, I recently came across the Pakistan Council of Science and Technology official website, which has dedicated a whole page and area to female scientists in Pakistan. Additionally it has made it easier for these teachers to be hired by universities and schools.
This leads me to conclude that our society, despite being male dominated, encourages, empowers and represents female scientists in a proud and courageous light.
The fault lies in the institutions,
Newton’s Third Law : Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
If only these academic institutions understood the effects that the lack of female representation in science textbooks can have they would think twice before not including women scientists.
For example, if female scientists are not represented in the syllabus it will likely have a direct impact on female participation in science related activities. This in the long run will further limit females entering careers in the field of science.
As Mariam Khan so eloquently put it “Science, like history and art have been run by academies or councils which determined who from the related field could be a member. Throughout history, these governing bodies were male dominated and denied women access.”
I could not agree with her statement more, sadly, the educational institutions by either being too lazy, too corrupt, or male dominated has simply not bothered to alter the education curriculum. They are failing to meet the mentality of this generation of Pakistani citizens. We need to feature our very talented Pakistani Female Scientists in the curriculum for our future generations to take inspiration from. Citizens which take pride in their female scientists and see them as role models breaking barriers, pushing boundaries, leading by example and changing the world, one step towards science at a time.
Vivacious. And making waves.