10th November - Day of action for Malala and girls' right to education
By: Amir Murtaza
Mr. Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, has declared 10th November a global day of action in support of Malala and girls’ right to education. Malala Yousafzai, an ardent campaigner for the right of education for girls, was shot by Taliban while on her way home from school in Swat valley, in northern areas of Pakistan. Malala, a fifteen year old girl, received national and international attention in 2009 on her courageous stance on girls’ education in Swat when local Taliban imposed ban on education and threatened to destroy schools and kill any girls attending classes.
On the occasion of 10th November the UN Special Envoy for Global Education will visit Pakistan and meet with Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan. During the meeting, Mr. Gordon Brown will also present more than a million signatures to the Pakistani President. Last month, Mr. Gordon Brown launched a petition aiming that every girl has the opportunity to attend the school.
The 10th Education for All Global Monitoring Report reveals that, “In Pakistan, 5.1 million children are out of school out of which 63% or over three million are girls. The report further adds, there are 7.27 million adolescents out of school out of which 3.8 million are female adolescent.”
In recent years I have the opportunity to attend a number of seminars and discussions on state of girls’ education in Pakistan. These programs, largely attended by legislators, government officials, representatives of UN, international and national organizations, had generated a constructive debate on female child education and brought forward a number of plausible recommendations to make further progress in the area. Similarly, government and donor agencies have invested a substantial amount on building infrastructure to educating the girls. However, millions of out of school girls and country’s current 113 ranking, out of 120 countries, on Education Development Index clearly tells that paucity of funds is not the only and most valid reason of our failure to send girls in schools.
I have observed that financial mismanagement, corruption, bad governance and lack of strict monitoring mechanism are some of the significant factors responsible for dismal performance in female child education in the country. It is however, established that inferior status of girls and a perpetual violence against them also considerably contribute in the violation of their right to education in the country.
It is also an undeniable fact that suppression of women’s rights is a mindset that has been widespread in all layers of social structure. Mahrukh was born in an urban middle class family. She has an elder and a younger brother. Mahrukh was only in eighth grade when she was forced by her parents to leave the school. Mahrukh said, “I was totally shocked when one morning while I was preparing for school, my father told me that I am no more allowed to attend the school. I didn’t get any further explanation about the decision as my father is very strict and he rarely talks with the children.” Both of her brothers are studying in good private schools, while Mahrukh is learning cooking and other domestic work as she is getting married early next year.
It has been observed that over the period of last one decade, the Pakistani urban middle class has made considerable investment in girls’ education. An increase in enrolment of girls’ child is quite clear; however, dropout of girls in high school is still a problem in urban as well as rural areas of the country. Kishwar Farooqui, a girl’s high school teacher said that, “Many of my students left the school after seventh or eighth grade. I tried my best to persuade the parents to allow their girl child to complete the matriculation but only few parents had accepted my request and allow their girls to stay at school till matriculation.” The high school teacher further informed that many parents candidly told that they will not allow their daughters to go out without their supervision.
Incidents of harassment and violence against girls while they go out of home have also forced many families to keep their daughters out of school. It is a fact and many researches and studies have validated that, “Younger women and adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, all over the world; additionally, fifty percent of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls 15 years of younger.”
Due to fear of harassment and violence many parents do not send their adolescent daughters to school. Shahida, resident of a small town, left the school while she was in seventh grade. She informed that, “My father, though a semi literate person, had always encouraged me to study and become a school teacher. Once while going to school three boys forcibly stopped and misbehaved with me. It was a very frightening incident for me and my family; thereafter I started going to school with my father to avoid any such incident to happen again. However, after sometime it became difficult for my father to regularly pick and drop me at school and eventually I had to leave the school.”
There is an increasing realization among Pakistani girls that only education can give them freedom and a better future. Girl education is also the only way to ensure a vibrant Pakistan, presently entangled in the web of terrorism and religious extremism. The cowardice attack on Malala clearly validates the dangers and threats for the country along with the risks and hindrances that our young girls are facing in getting their right to education in the country. Certainly 10th November is an opportunity for the government and the society to renew their pledge and make utmost efforts that all of our girls are in school and getting education without any fear.