By Sadaf Taimur and Noel Schroeder —

Alliance member Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in Pakistan knows firsthand what can be accomplished when girls’ education is prioritized. ITA’s educational programs break down barriers and help girls access quality learning opportunities, so that they can rise and thrive. Up until now, ITA has had over 12.5 million beneficiaries and has changed the condition of well-being for the children, adults, families, and communities directly served by its grants, programs, agencies, or service systems. Examples of strategies that lead to impact include direct services, education, and training. More importantly, they influence national policymaking in Pakistan to ensure equal access to education for all.

Why is the need for policymaking on girls’ education so urgent in Pakistan?

Right now, Pakistan faces a serious education crisis that is hitting girls especially hard. Girls’ access to education in Pakistan is restricted. Though improvements to access and quality have been made in the recent past, underlying factors of discrimination, inefficiency, and inequality need to be addressed.

The statistics available on girls’ education paints a terrifying and painful picture:

  • Pakistan has the second highest number of girls out of school in the world.
  • According to the 2014 ASER report, the education being provided is unfortunately of such poor quality that only 25 percent of students in Class 5 possess the basic numeracy and literacy skills that they should have acquired in Class 2.
  • 42 percent of the population age 10 and over is illiterate and about two-thirds of women age 15+ are unable to read and write.
  • ASER’s results (2011-2015) also reveal stark gender differences across geography and class, highlighting intersecting and compounding discrimination against poor, rural girls. More than 50 percent of poorest girls are excluded from education in rural Pakistan. The poorest girls living in rural areas suffer a double dis-advantage – majority do not get access to the schools and those who do, are not learning much.

While the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan promises equal rights to all citizens and repudiates sexual discrimination. Article 25 A states, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Very little has changed for its female population since then. Currently, the highest female literacy rate is in the Punjab province at any alarmingly low rate of 48 percent and the lowest in Baluchistan is 22 percent, highlights the urgent need for implementing effective reforms and policies. 

Poverty, paternal concerns about safety and mobility of their daughters, and underinvestment in girls’ schooling could explain the large and continuing gender gap in Pakistan. That is why policy change is needed to address these issues and ensure that all children in Pakistan have access to a quality education: it is very important to prioritize girls’ education through budgetary support, improved planning, community engagement, better governance, and capacity building efforts.

Education can play a vital role in achieving broader development goals and equitable access to education is fundamental to alleviate poverty. Life-long learning allows community members to continuously build their skills, knowledge, and competencies that helps them thrive as productive members of society, leading to sustainable development. Girls’ education is so inextricably linked with the other facets of human development that to make it a priority is to trigger positive change on a range of other fronts: health, fertility rates, early childhood care, nutrition, water and sanitation to community empowerment, reduction of child labor, and other forms of exploitation to the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Education should be the priority for every girl. In many villages, schools are either not functional or do not exist at all and that is why many girls discontinue their education and stay at home. This often becomes a reason for the parents to marry their girls off. On the other hand, early marriages can also lead to discontinuation of education for girls who do want to study. Thus, it is established that education is the single strongest factor that can delay the marriage of young girls.

“But I don’t live in Pakistan. What can I do?” 

On International Women’s Day this year, ITA is highlighting the urgency of Pakistan’s education crisis and the need for equal access to education and quality learning among girls and boys in order to help girls rise. Through their campaign #GirlsRiseThroughEducation they’re collecting photos and stories of what girls can achieve when they have access to quality learning opportunities. These will send a powerful message to the public about the need to change the embedded stereotypes and norms that keep girls out of school. The messages and images from this campaign will also serve as a tool that ITA can use with Pakistani policymakers to show widespread support for girls’ education.

Share your own message to help ITA demonstrate the power of girls!

  • Post a photo: Share a photo of yourself holding up a message about what girls can achieve when they access education. Use #GirlsRiseThroughEducation.
  • Share on Twitter: I support #GirlsRiseThroughEducation campaign on #IWD2017 because I want to change the mindset that hold girls back!
  • Share on Facebook: On #IWD2017 I’m supporting #GirlsRiseThroughEducation campaign. How? By trying to change the mindset that keep girls around the world out of school. I want to see a world where every girl has equal opportunity to learn, and a future where every woman has equal opportunity to lead. Join me?