There has been a recent surge in demand for Islamic education for young women in Pakistan, which this paper examines and seeks to explain. It suggests that number of female madrasas has grown because they provide an education for young women from middle income families, which responds to many of the pressures resulting from economic and cultural change.
The paper charts the birth, growing demand for and increasing numbers of female madrasas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan since the 1970s, noting that this reflects both demand from families and a positive response by the Islamic educational establishment. It attributes the recent surge in demand for Islamic education among girls who have already completed a secular education (mostly aged 16+) to the uncertain external environment. Globalization, development processes and wider availability of the mass media (especially cable television) are exposing young women from middle income families to western notions of gender equality and increasing their desire to access good jobs. However, the state has failed to provide educational and employment opportunities to match their aspirations. In addition, the erosive effect of cultural change on values that stress the importance of being a good Muslim, wife, mother and daughter concerns religious teachers, parents and many young women alike. It is suggested that the choice of madrasa education by parents and their daughters is partly driven by religious beliefs, but is also a rational response to the socio-economic and cultural changes that concern them.
Working Paper No. 45, Religions and Development Research Programme, University of Birmingham, UK, 33 pp.