Across the country as a whole, two thirds of women are unable to read or write. This lack of education among Pakistan’s female population is seen as a major hindrance to improving the country’s prosperity. There is a growing consensus among social and economic experts that the education of girls is a vital component to the development of poorer countries. The problem of illiteracy among women is particularly acute in certain provinces. Whereas over 35 percent of women are literate in Sindh and the Punjab, just 19 per cent are able to read and write in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and only 14 per cent in Balochistan.
In two recent reports, the news agency IRIN highlights how young girls in the western provinces of Pakistan are desperate to be educated. In the first feature, IRIN looks at the Bolan district of Balochistan, which lies around 150km southeast of Quetta. Here, an elderly villager has returned home from the southern city of Karachi and is educating girls in Bolan. The area suffers from a shortage of school places for girls and attacks on female teachers have exacerbated this problem. Now, one elderly woman is offering hope to local girls in Bolan, all excited at the prospect of receiving their first lessons.
In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, IRIN follows a group of youngsters in the small town of Kabal in the Swat Valley. Despite the dilapidated condition of their school buildings, burnt down by the Taliban in 2008, the town’s girls attend their lessons with high hopes for their futures. One twelve-year old says she wants to become a teacher herself and help educate other girls in her village. In another remote village in the Swat Valley, Shangla, Malala Yousafzai was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, after she campaigned for girls’ rights against the Taliban. Receiving an award from Pakistan’s prime minister, Malala, who is now 13, said simply “I want education for the girls of Swat”.
However, while youngsters bravely stand up for their rights, it is still extremely hard for many young girls to attend school in these regions. By running voluntary classes outside of school, community members are helping. But ultimately, more facilities and support will be needed. As part of its aid commitment to Pakistan, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) will spend a significant part of its budget on education over the next four years. This will include the expansion of educational programmes into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. SOS Children continues its support of education for girls and boys in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, through its homes and facilities in Quetta and Dhodial.