Ode to a better future

Published: May 16, 2017
The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

There is reason to be hopeful for a better future. And that is not because of a trade treaty, or because of yet another murky deal between those who claim to control the levers of power and those who actually do control them. There is reason to be hopeful because there are seedlings of hope breaking open the asphalt of status quo, insecurity and gender-based discrimination.

Last week, the results of the civil service exams were announced. Now the overall passing rate is nothing to brag about and there are some systematic challenges, but there is a bigger story here that is worth celebrating. The top three positions, and five out of top six positions, after this long, multi-step and comprehensive exam, were bagged by women. CSS exams are the latest string in national exams and competitions that has shown the trend that our female students continue to outperform their male counterparts, year after year, time and again. This is a sign that the hope for a brighter future is not all lost.

I am hopeful because our society and higher education system does not make it easy for girls to pursue their dreams, provide them with anything close to an equal opportunity to excel or give them their due share in resources. The social services from schools to healthcare for females remain highly disproportionate. Yet they outperform boys and not because of the system but despite it. This level of resilience, aptitude and resolve shows character that is worthy of hope and celebration.

My male fraternity, of which I am a member by virtue of having a Y chromosome, is responsible for harassment on campus, most of which goes unreported. If it is ever reported, it is brushed aside and filed in the cabinet of no action.

Men, in our culture, control the lives of women and make decisions for them, often without any input, discussion or consultation. The moral brigade on our campuses decides to regulate what women should or should not wear, who they can talk to and who they cannot meet, while at the same time giving men a free pass to do as they please. Men decide whether a girl should study or get married and, if she does study, what may be the most suitable subject for her, irrespective of what she may want for herself or find interesting.

Despite evidence, year after year, of girls outperforming boys in science and humanities, men get to have all the seats at the decision-making table. At a recent conference on science, technology and education in Lahore, every single panelist was a male, despite nearly half of science teachers, in our middle and high schools, being women. When it comes to political point scoring, men shame the other party by saying that somehow their women are immoral. When it comes to selling a washing machine ad, men make light of domestic violence and beating their wives, considering it a great marketing strategy.

In this climate of misogyny and bigotry, where men decide on all the rules and keep changing them for their own advantage, the fact that our girls outperform boys so comprehensively gives me a lot of hope. What it says about the competence of men in power is another matter. I know that some in my clan will become even more insecure, but I believe the tide has finally turned towards more inclusion, fairness and equity. A long road ahead, but the cracks in the system are visible and hopefully irreversible.

So to those who defy the odds and don’t accept the status quo, all I can say is a big thank you for giving us hope for a better tomorrow.

You go, girl!

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2017.

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