Pakistan's medical schools, where the women rule

Pak girlsPakistan's medical schools are a reflection of how women's roles are evolving. (Reuters)

In a lecture hall of one of Pakistan's most prestigious medical schools, a handful of male students sits in the far top corner, clearly outnumbered by the rows and rows of female students listening intently to the doctor lecturing about insulin.

In a country better known for honor killings of women and low literacy rates for girls, Pakistan's medical schools are a reflection of how women's roles are evolving. Women now make up the vast majority of students studying medicine, a gradual change that's come about after a quota favoring male admittance into medical school was lifted in 1991.

The trend is a step forward for women in Pakistan, a largely conservative Muslim country. But there remain obstacles. Many women graduates don't go on to work as doctors, largely because of pressure from family and society to get married and stop working _ so much so that there are now concerns over the impact on the country's health care system.

At Dow Medical College in the southern port city of Karachi, the female students said they are adamant they will work.

Standing in the school's courtyard as fellow students _ almost all of them women _ gathered between classes, Ayesha Sultan described why she wants to become a doctor.

"I wanted to serve humanity, and I believe that I was born for this,'' said Sultan, who is in her first year. "The women here are really striving hard to get a position, especially in this country where women's discrimination is to the zenith, so I think that's why you find a lot of women here.''

For years, a government-imposed quota mandated that 80 percent of the seats at medical schools went to men and 20 percent to women. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the quota was unconstitutional and that admission should be based solely on merit.

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