July 28, 2021

Aamir Jamal is awarded for his approach to educational equity in Pakistan

Social Work scholar receives International Achievement Award for promoting gender justice and girls' education
Portrait of Dr. Aamir Jamal, PhD

Dr. Aamir Jamal, PhD, has accomplished much in his 25 years of international social work. An associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, Dr. Jamal is a published author, a world-renowned expert in his field, and carries multiple administrative roles in his faculty, including that of Director, Global Engagement and International Partnerships.

Last month, he was honoured with the International Achievement Award at the annual City of Calgary Awards for his work researching and advocating for gender justice and girls' education in the Global South, particularly the Pashtun areas of Northwest Pakistan.

Jamal, for all of his accomplishments and accolades, says he is cognizant of that the fact that none of it would have been possible were it not for the schooling of a single woman in a small village in Pakistan many years ago: his mother.

“I am sitting here because my mother was educated. She was the first woman educated in our tribe,” says Jamal, explaining that although she only went as far as the tenth grade, that was enough for her to become a teacher herself. No small accomplishment, as in some rural, tribal areas the literacy rate for women is as low as 3 per cent.

“That one woman educated her family and educated her whole village… Not just one village: villages! Our whole community. This was something amazing that I witnessed.”

Indeed, Jamal says that research shows that there isn’t a single social determinant of health that does not improve when communities move towards educational equity. Where girls and women have access to education, there are marked reductions in poverty, child marriages, domestic violence and even mortality.

There are these hills in the swat valley of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province of Pakistan and from afar I saw a line of girls in uniform going to school. It brought tears to my eyes. 
Aamir Jamal

However, there’s another piece to Jamal’s family history that underscores how his work came to be focused primarily on bringing in men to the table in the pursuit of gender justice and education.

“One man, my grandfather, stood for his daughter’s education and the world changed for her and for many of us,” he says. “So, I realized that the engaging men is very important in this initiative.”

In his 2015 paper, “Engaging Men for Gender Justice: Overcoming Barriers to Girls’ Education in the Pashtun Tribes of Pakistan,” Jamal states that a key strategy in effecting change is gaining the support of religious leaders (Imams) and village elders (Mashran). This can be a difficult undertaking in a strongly gendered, patriarchal society.

“I have a community-oriented research and practice approach,” he explains. “So, I meet with men, I meet with religious leaders… I go to mosques and talk to them about the significance of education through the lens with which they are most comfortable – the religious lens, the Islamic lens.

“There is some resistance, but when I bring the argument from the Islamic text that supports gender justice and girls’ education, they cannot say no.”

Jamal, who developed the above research study into his full-length book, The Gate Keepers: Engaging Pashtun Men for Gender Justice and Girls’ Education, says that significant strides have been made even in the short interval since the works were published.

“Things are better, both in the rural and urban areas of northwest Pakistan,” he says. “I went and saw those regions where girls were not allowed to go to school, and I remember this one image: there are these hills in the swat valley of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province of Pakistan and from afar I saw a line of girls in uniform going to school. It brought tears to my eyes.”

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