Pakistani educational reform requires EU support

Education for girls and woman in Pakistan is under threat from the Taliban, argues Madi Sharma.

By Madi Sharma

23 Oct 2014

On 9 October 2012, a gunman boarded a school bus in the northwest Pakistan district of Swat, asked for a 15-year-old girl by name and shot her three times. The girl was Malala Yousafzai, whose vocal fight for the education of young girls in Pakistan was met with the hatred and violence of the Taliban. On 10 October 2014, exactly two years after the dastardly and brutal attack on her, she was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

At 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel peace prize. This nomination also serves as a reminder of the dark future women and girls are facing in parts of the world such as Pakistan, where access to equal education for them is limited if not forbidden.

Pakistan has a population of nearly 200 million people, of whom roughly one-quarter (52 million), are between the ages of five and 16. However, statistics for this age group are difficult to come by, the number of Pakistani children between five and 16 who are not attending school is close to 25 million; most of them are girls. According to Unesco, overall literacy rate in Pakistan is 26 per cent while the rate for girls and women is 12 per cent. There are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which only 40,000 cater to girls.

"According to Unesco, overall literacy rate in Pakistan is 26 per cent while the rate for girls and women is 12 per cent. There are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which only 40,000 cater to girls"

There are many factors that contribute to this situation, the presence and the influence of the Pakistani Taliban is definitely one of the most influential. For decades now, the Pakistani Taliban has been establishing their dominance in large parts of Pakistan, enforcing their own rule which wants girls out of school and the boys to be radicalised. What is even more worrying is that after the war that the Pakistani government declared against the Taliban in the country, many of them, according to reports, have found refuge in the big cities, such as Karachi, where they can reorganise their ranks.

In rural areas the situation is even more desperate, some government organisations and non-governmental organisations have tried to open formal and informal schools in these areas, but the local landlords, even when they have little or nothing to do with religion or religious parties, oppose such measures, apparently out of fear that literacy might lead to them losing control over the population. Even the central government is reluctant to put pressure on landlords, due to their dependency on them for support in many regions. As a result, in the north-west frontier province and Baluchistan, the female literacy rate stands between three and eight per cent.

Furthermore, the quality of the education provided is extremely low. Last year's survey revealed that 51 per cent of all government primary schools didn't have working electricity, 36 per cent didn't have drinking water on the school premises and 42 per cent didn't have working toilets.

Moreover, the European Union has been providing assistance in the form of development funds to Pakistan, solely for the purpose of improving access to education. Over the period of 2007-2010, financial support to the education sector was about €80.7m and for 2011-2013 it reached about €70m.

Europe has been there to support Pakistan but we must make sure that the funds and resources are used effectively to provide equal access to education for all, especially for the girls and women of Pakistan, who most suffer from illiteracy in the country. The results must be seen on the ground.

Read the most recent articles written by Madi Sharma - Adopting a gender-sensitive lens in global security