Madrasa graduates have less favourable attitudes about women: UNESCO report

 It was found that graduates of madrasas had fewer positive opinions toward women’s higher education and working mothers, believed that wives

Madrasa graduates have less favourable attitudes about women
Madrasa graduates have less favourable attitudes about women

In Asia, faith-based schools may affect the survival of patriarchal attitudes and norms in society, offsetting some of the benefits of expanded educational access for gender equality. In Asia, non-state faith-based schools have boosted girls’ access to education, but at a price, according to the UNESCO-published worldwide education monitoring report on the topic of “deepening the discourse on those left behind”.

However, the UNESCO report advises against exaggerating any potential adverse consequences of faith-based schools.

It was found that graduates of madrasas had fewer positive opinions toward women’s higher education and working mothers, believed that wives’ primary role was to raise children, believed that God determined the ideal number of children, and expressed a desire for large families.

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“Several decades ago gender disparity in education was high in many Muslim-majority countries in Asia. Significant progress to increase access and close gender gaps have since been achieved, in partnership with non-state faith-based providers. Rising enrolment of girls in madrasas helped relax social constraints on women’s mobility in conservative rural areas where madrasas have been low-cost platforms to achieve universal education,” the report stated.

“Madrasas can also cancel out some of the positive impacts on gender equality from increased education access. First, their curricula and textbooks may not be gender-inclusive, instead reinforcing traditional narratives on gender roles, as studies have shown in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Second, their teaching and learning practices such as gender segregation and gender-specific restrictions on social interactions may leave the impression that such gender-unequal practices are socially acceptable more broadly,” it said.

According to the report, the teachers may lack the training to address gender issues and may act as negative models, for instance affecting students’ attitudes to fertility.

“Fourthly, the more traditional institutions may have restricted environments with limited exposure to progressive role models and media. Reproducing traditional gender norms discourages participation in further education and employment. What happens inside faith-based institutions has implications for the persistence of patriarchal norms and attitudes in society,” it said.

The report notes that there are many different types of non-state faith-based institutions with vastly-different educational offerings and financial backing and that they frequently function in a complex institutional setting throughout Asia.

While madrasas generally follow a curriculum that promotes a religious way of life, the situation is far from uniform both within and between countries. Some countries integrate madrasas with the government curriculum while others stick to traditional models,” it said.

New research for the report, according to UNESCO specialists, examined data connecting faith-based schools, particularly the non-state kind, with advancement or stagnation of gender equality in their societies.

“A study comparing female secondary school and madrasa graduates found that the latter held less favorable attitudes towards higher education for girls and working mothers considered raising children to be wives’ main responsibility, believed the optimal number of children was up to God, and indicated a preference for large families.

“Further analysis suggested that madrasa students, especially from unrecognized institutions, held less favorable attitudes about women and their abilities than did their peers in secular schools. Teachers in traditional madrasas were found to have a significantly larger family,” it said.

“It is very difficult to separate the impact of religious belief and socioeconomic background from the impact of non-state faith-based schools on progress towards gender equality. Madrasa enrolment is positively correlated with the degree of household religious belief and physical distance from a non-faith-based school.

“Their unique cultural and institutional histories, which often blur boundaries between state and non-state institutions, further complicate analysis. Differences between them may entail the school of thought followed, emphasis on scriptures and Islamic sciences, presence of daily rituals, boarding arrangements, and attachment to local mosques. These important differences mean experiences are country- and even school-specific,” the report stated.

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