One would have thought that with Pakistan being a signatory to the charter of Human Rights, all the children of our country would be entitled to a uniform education and a choice of a better future, but sadly, in Pakistan, we see little advancement on the education of the girl child. Owing to social and cultural obstacles, the situation is especially alarming in rural areas more than in urban.

Some of the major factors that play a detrimental role in quality education accessibility throughout Pakistan include travel time from home to nearest school, child labour, paucity of teachers, local leadership agendas, frequent policy changes and fear on the part of feudal landlords of losing their grip on their village folk. Two of Pakistan’s provinces – KPK, and Balochistan – are more severely crippled in providing good quality education across the board owing to the added problems of cultural constraints and prejudices. What’s more, the terror activities in recent years have by and large deterred the girl child from receiving education. In most parts of Balochistan and KPK girls are being forced to get involved in community work and reproductive and productive work rather than equipping themselves with the power of education. Girls are forced to work for as long as14 to 18 hours at a stretch, at an age when they should be studying and playing with little kids their own age. Women, constituting 51 per cent of the country’s population are being burdened from a tender age to just bear children and look after their husband and family and are confined within their houses. Female literacy rate in Balochistan is just15 to 25 per cent. In KPK militant groups have made the situation worse by bombing thousands of schools, and more-or-less waging a war against education of the girl child.

The societal association of earning livelihood only with men nourishes the mindset of giving preference to the education of sons over daughters. The general mindset is that boys will one day become the bread-earners of their family while girls will be married off and become someone else’s property, hence investing in their education is not desirable or necessary.

All these cultural and political factors added up to rank Pakistan at 199 on the global literacy level, having 54.9 per cent literacy rate overall. However, admittedly, the on-going effort of several humanitarian NGOs and INGOs working for the girl child’s education is contributing towards improving the situation. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-15Punjab improved its literacy rate by one percent from 60 per cent of the previous years to 61 per cent, while KPK increased its female literacy rate to 53 per cent. In Sindh, however, there has been a drop in the general literacy rate from 60 per cent to 56 per cent, while in Balochistan the rate has fallen to 43 per cent from the 44per cent of last fiscal.

However, there’s a decline in female education percentages in the Punjab and in Sindh from 54 per cent to 52 per cent and from 43 per cent to 47 per cent of the previous year, respectively. UNDP has made interventions at KPK and Balochistan to propagate quality education in unprivileged areas. In one of their surveys UNDP discovered, “the linkage between education score and school facilities was the weakest in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), where, despite some of the lowest availabilities of school facilities, education outcomes were high. This may be owing to the fact that education facilities are based on government-run schools while education outcomes are based on all children...”

UNDP project in Balochistan have helped in improving girls’ access to education from about 33 per cent to 80 per cent in just one year. This project also contributed to the Millennium Development Goal number 2 related to universal primary education.

On government level the policies and interventions are in progress to ensure maximum quality education for the future of the nation at all levels. One of the initiatives is the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Shareef’s family to USA and a formal meeting of Maryam Nawaz with Michelle Obama. The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama had formally invited Maryam Nawaz Sharif for a one-on-one meeting in the White House on October 22. Maryam’s meeting with Michelle Obama was focused on education, more specifically on the development of interventions for girl education. She had discussions with Maryam Nawaz about the world-wide children’s education programme for which they have previously agreed to work.

Speaking at an event “Let Girls Learn” at the White House Michelle Obama and Maryam Nawaz committed to closely working together to expand opportunities for the education of young girls in Pakistan and women empowerment. The US First Lady also announced the funding of $70 million for education of adolescent girls in Pakistan. During media conference, Michelle Obama mentioned that vocational training and health programmes for children have been started in Pakistan while she vowed to continue the work for women. She further said that Pakistan has been funded for educating girls in Pakistan under Global Girls Education Fund; from this Programme around 200,000 girls will be able to construct their better future. More power to our girls – may Malala’s legacy live on and her fight and sacrifice for the rights of educating the girl child not go in vain.