Pakistan today faces a plethora of acute and frightening problems ranging from terrorism, bad governance, population hike, power shortages, rising prices, corruption, a controversial judiciary and a poor education system. It will not be out of place to place on record that successive regimes in Pakistan have been woefully negligent of the importance of the role of women in our society and this fact is borne out by the total neglect and indifferent attitude of many past governments towards the importance of girls’ education in the country, compounded by the poor state of health facilities and opportunities for employment. The state of affairs regarding over 50 percent of our population is full of short-term and long-term serious consequences that are now fairly visible in our society.
There is now a steep rise in infant mortality rates and stunted growth of children with serious consequences for them by the time they reach adulthood. This callous attitude by our political leaders and the powers that be continues unabated and now needs to be taken on as a national crisis or the future generations will pay a very heavy price for this neglect. An assassination attempt on Malala Yousufzai in 2012 brought the issue of girls’ education in the country to the international level, but even today, despite the constitutional provision of fair and equitable education for all citizens, female education in the country leaves a lot to be desired and even in the twenty first century our girls still face severe and serious challenges to get even basic education.
That brave and plucky girl Malala Yousufzai the champion of girls’ education very rightly said “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful”. As far as education is concerned, Pakistani girls are still waiting to hear that one voice.
There is a famous proverb that says “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation” unfortunately due to a patriarchal attitude and a bad situation of gender inequality in the country women in Pakistan have to struggle for their basic primary education and today over 13 million girls are out of school and one of the main reason is very low investment by the government in the education infrastructure of the country. According to a World Bank report of 2020 63% of Pakistanis live in rural areas and hence girls in the rural environment face acute problems simply because of a severe shortage of schools in the rural areas and those that are available lack even basic facilities like electricity and furniture. Girls even face restrictions from society on the basis of religion and culture.
Article 26 of the UN Charter states that “everyone has the right to education” women are half of the country’s population and these 50% can change the very fate of the nation and educated women can bring tremendous benefits for the country. Education makes a woman aware of her rights and responsibilities and makes her fight for her betterment and achieve all the targets in her life we have the glowing examples of Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto and many others who have contributed their talents for the country on the basis of their education.
When the nation is faced with serious security challenges and an acute economic condition the need for empowerment of women and their education has been placed on the backburner and this is closing our eyes to the fact that women can make a tremendous contribution if they are provided the facilities and prospects to show their talents. Our political parties must ensure the involvement of women in politics and give them the representation they deserve in all legislative bodies.
A fact that cannot be overlooked and only reaffirms how significant it is that women be afforded equal opportunities is that despite prejudices our women continue to outshine in several fields at the regional and global level. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and activist known for her work in films that highlight gender inequality against women, promoting women in the forefront. She is a recipient of several international and national awards, including the Oscars. Recently she brought 19 female filmmakers together which shows her standing and influence among artists.
We also have the glowing example of the world-famous Malala Yousufzai champion of girls education and the youngest female Nobel Laureate who brought laurels to Pakistan and was targeted by religious fanatics for speaking up for the rights of women to education and employment when our political leaders were scared of facing the obscurantist groups of terrorists. In 2013, Time magazine named Malala among “the 100 most influential people in the world.” This was no ordinary achievement. On her 16th birthday, she spoke in the United Nations, setting a world record of being the youngest person to address the world body. And in September 2021, she addressed the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan and called for the protection of Afghan girls. Currently, she is engaged in philanthropic activities and has created the Malala Fund for the education of girls.
Pakistani women who had the good fortune to have access to education have proven their mettle in many fields. We have the example of Samina Baig who is the youngest woman to climb Mount Everest at the age of 17. There are famous writers and playwrights such as Hasina Moin, Bano Qudsia, Fatima Surayya, Kamila Shamsie and Uzma Aslam Khan. Women who have excelled in politics and diplomacy include Maleeha Lodhi and Sherry Rahman. There is Lt Gen Nigar Johar, our first ever female three-star general, serving in the army medical corps; and Ayesha Malik, our first female Supreme Court judge.
Let us not forget that the Global Gender Index in 2016 ranked Pakistan as the second lowest country in the world for gender equality and the situation remains similar in 2023. As we speak, Pakistan has been placed near the bottom of both the regional and global rankings. Only Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan are below Pakistan in this context.