The importance of girls' education in Pakistan: What are we waiting for?

The resilience and the sheer number of the youth of Pakistan mean that there is great potential for the country’s future

Mary Hunter
The resilience and the sheer number of the youth of Pakistan mean that there is great potential for the country’s future. Photo Courtesy: Geo News screengrab/ HRW video

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) held a live session, moderated by Adeel Hashmi, with a number of esteemed panelists including the Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai. 

The session was dedicated to the topic of education and how it can be made more accessible and equal, particularly to girls in developing countries like Pakistan.

Despite acknowledging the challenges that continue to be faced in Pakistan, in terms of making education more accessible, there was a message of hope for the youth of the country.

Dr Arshad Ahmad, the vice-chancellor of LUMS, praised the resilience of the Pakistani youth exemplified by their response to recent natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, which for them is unprecedented. He also acknowledged that the strength of Pakistan lies in its youth, pointing out that Pakistan is one of the youngest countries in the world.

Indeed, a 2018 study conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ranked Pakistan 180th in the world based on its median age of 22 years, which was significantly younger than Monaco with the oldest median age of 55.4 years.

The resilience and the sheer number of the youth of Pakistan mean that there is great potential for the country’s future. 

The main obstacle, however, to the success of future generations is the lack of accessible education, particularly for girls, compared to more developed nations.

Read more: Pakistan failing to educate girls: HRW

Malala expressed concern that the pandemic might result in fewer funds being invested by Pakistan’s government in education.

 But the live session did provide hope for future generations in Pakistan as it discussed some of LUMS initiatives to increase access to education and to ensure it is more equal, regardless of a student’s gender.

Dr Ahmad explained how LUMS is not only offering scholarships with a 50% tuition fee waiver to potential female students of the MBA program, but they are increasingly enrolling students from all corners of the country in order to diversify the university’s population which he characterised as reflecting the “mosaic of the country.”

This is a noble initiative because it would not only provide young people from more marginalised regions with their right to education, but it would encourage greater inclusivity amongst the youth and in academia.

Dr Ahmad also expressed hope that the initiative would have a “forced multiplier effect” in which LUMS graduates would return to their hometowns and thus encourage others to seek education.

The live session rightly celebrated the achievements of the Malala Fund, particularly achievements undertaken in Pakistan. Dr. Maliha Khan, the chief programmes officer of the Malala Fund, recounted some of the Fund’s successes since 2013, including nearly $6.5 million committed to education in Pakistan and the funding of 14 “champions of education” working at the grass-roots level in advocating for more equal education for girls.

Malala suggested that one of her most meaningful achievements was her role in the establishment of a girls’ secondary school in her hometown of Shangla, having dedicated her prize money from her Nobel Prize to its formation.

In her commendably candid discussion, she happily reported how girls at this school wanted to remain there over summer to continue their education.

This sentiment among the girls of Shangla cannot be underestimated. In developed nations, most young people take for granted their free and equal access to education. 

This is not a criticism of the students but merely a symptom of their fortunate upbringing. But the fact that young girls, having received greater access to education, seek to remain at their school is beautiful and a testament to the unwavering activism of Malala and the successes of her Fund.

Malala also referred to the youth as the “real change-makers” during the session, with their concern for climate change as essential to their identity. 

This sensitivity to the state of the planet and the feelings of others will pave the way for international leaders, who celebrate diversity and gender equity, and will aim high to undo the damage inflicted by past generations.

But perhaps the most significant part of the online session was the celebration of women that underlined the whole discussion. Dr. Ahmad applied this point to education and concluded with inspiring words regarding the betterment of girls’ education in the future:

“History has taught us [women] are better teachers, they are better leaders. So, let’s get on with it. What are we waiting for?”

Hunter has just completed her MTheol degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and now works as a researcher. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter