Right to Education for Girls in Pakistan: Malala’s Struggle Must Continue

Pakistan has gone through moments of shock in the past. Catastrophic floods, assassinations and violent attacks have been all too common. Yet the attempted killing of a 14 year old girl whose crime was to seek fair access to education for girls in Pakistan has, many believe, marked a turning point. But we’ve been here before. Turning points will not happen simply through condemnation of the attack on Malala Yousafzai. We must ensure that those in power who speak out against the attack on Malala also commit to pursuing and securing girls’ education in Pakistan, now a fundamental right for the citizens of Pakistan.

The state of girls’ education in Pakistan is far from optimal. There are 7.261 million children out of school at the primary level, and 58 percent are female (UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011). The Government has initiated a number of efforts to bring about improvements in education outcomes, particularly for the participation of girls in primary school. Pakistan’s efforts are linked to its commitment to meet the Education for All (EFA) targets and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The recent constitutional amendment (Article 25A) makes education a fundamental right for the citizens of Pakistan. The article 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.”

The recent attack on Malala Yousafzai has shocked Pakistan and the world. Malala was well known for her education and women’s rights activism in Swat Valley, where the Taliban has at times banned girls from attending school. For many, Malala was a symbol of resistance against fundamentalism, extremism, and terrorism. As importantly, Malala was a symbol of hope for thousands of other girls in Pakistan going to school in often difficult circumstances. Malala spoke out against the Taliban insurgency by blogging about their ban on schools for girls in Swat. She wrote about the great loss having so many young girls out of education means for the future of Pakistan. Her writing was courageous and moving, and it shows that words can bring change.

The public reaction to the attack on Malala has at least been a cause for hope. Protests against the attack have been held in several Pakistani cities. Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, (BKTEF) participated in the International Day for Girl Child in all 14 Baacha Khan Schools across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Four thousand students were involved and participated in organized walks and prayers for Malala. Along with their support for Malala, these students sought to highlight the importance of girls’ education and the need to secure a better future for the young girls of Pakistan.

Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation works for peace, democracy, human rights, and development with an emphasis on education, particularly for women and girls. Most of the students and teachers in the 14 Baacha Khan Schools are girls and women. The Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation works with women and girls in some of the most challenging areas in Pakistan through its Community Education Committees. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) has also been active in its condemnation of Malala’s attack.

The Constitution of Pakistan promises free and compulsory education to all children in Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai asked for no more than this, for all of Pakistan’s children, girls and boys. Education must now be acknowledged as the first priority of the state and those political parties engaged in election campaigning. New legislation is needed now in all provinces and federal areas in Pakistan for the right to education, which comprehensively addresses issues of access, quality, and equity for all children of Pakistan. The legislation must explicitly define norms for quality education services, roles, responsibilities, and how the implementation process will work. The process must be transparent and inclusive and involve a nationwide debate and consultation. Attitudes in Pakistan towards education for girls are changing. Now the law must catch up with them and nudge them even further. 

9 Comments

Very well recorded; the power of a young girl in Pakistan has galvanized the entire society and the article points towards that possibility of pushing forward a hard hitting result oriented agenda.

I read your article on the web site. It is refreshing and focused on the vital link between girls education and Malala's campaign for girl's education. I hope it leads to more conscious efforts by public and private institutions to promote girls education in Pakistan.

You are right . There are many turning points in life but we need to capitalize on this one and promoter female education in those very areas where it is being repressed.

Great article Nargis!

Excellent article as always Nargis. You are a much needed voice for female education in Pakistan.

A very touching article emphasizing the many challenges facing Pakistan and paying a touching tribute to this brave girl from Swat who championed the cause for girls eductaion. The author has very rightly put in the title that Malala's struggle must continue. Girls education is a matter of saving Pakistan and we have to move beyond condemination at all levels. In spirit Malala represents a hope symbol.

Nargis,

Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking article on a topic of high importance, especially in Pakistani context. You have very rightly said that overall state of education, and especially girls education, is in shambles. Malala has emerged as an icon of struggle and especially for girls' right to education. Your article appears at a critical juncture of our history, when the struggle for girls rights, personified by Malala, is in full swing.

I wish Malala and the rest of the nation a prosperous and educated future.

Abdul-Aziz Usmani
Islamabad

I think you are right but I just like the article. It is very well set up.

Nargis,thankyou for expressing the thoughts of the majority of people in Pakistan in your well written article. Our hope is that this horrific incident proves to be a catylst, to reaffirm the governments resolve to implement the right of education for every child.
In her struggle for girls education and the defiance of the ruthless Taliban,young Mallala, today stands as a bigger icon than Anne Frank, who touches our hearts still through her memoirs.
Thankyou Nargis, for continuing to support girls education in the remotest and most challenging areas of Pakistan.

A very timely article that puts the story of Malala in the broader context of right to education in Pakistan. Thanks Nargis for this wonderful article.

Add your voice