The video above is 18 year old Mehnaz’s story who pursued higher education but plans to drop out before completing her degree.
“As a woman, what do you think are your basic rights?” I asked several women on my recent trip to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The answer was almost always the same: The right to make my own decisions. More importantly, the right to education.
Unanimously, over the years, the one desire that has been commonly seen among relatively ‘aware’ Pakistani women is to acquire education. These women were based in urban and rural parts of the country, spread out from the Heera Mandi in Lahore or to Nagarparkar in Tharparkar or most recently in the villages of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In a country where a whopping 61 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, surviving (or not) at under $2-a-day, female education takes a back seat on the list of priorities. Pakistan continues to have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, and also unsettling disparity in rates of education, the disparity between urban and rural population being specially marked.
Gender disparity in education in Pakistanis a major issue. According to figures released by Unesco Institute for Statistics, primary-school enrolment for girls stands at 60 per cent and at 84 per cent for boys. However, only 32 per cent of the females enrol in secondary school.
According to the 2009 census, the rate of female literacy inPakistan is 45 per cent, which means they can read a newspaper in any language and write a simple letter.
“I dream that these girls get educated. I don’t want them to be weak and exploited. I want to groom them. I want them to be aware of their rights. I want them to be able to support themselves and have a better life,” says Huma, teaching a group of 30 little girls at the APNA Primary Girls’ School, in the villageof Islamabad Karuna.
The village, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was devastated by the floods of 2010, adding to the unrest caused by terrorism in the province. A deeply patriarchal mindset makes female education a challenge in these areas. Yet, Huma who holds a masters degree in botany, believes in the cause and has given up several lucrative job offers for it.
The children at APNA School are very poor. It is a norm for most of them to arrive at the school on an empty stomach, there families not being able to eat breakfast. Yet, every morning, they are present in Huma’s class, with dreams in their eyes.
Hope, for a better-educated Pakistan, comes from an 18-year-old woman from the village.
“It is time I took control of my life and helped my old father support the family. He invested in my education. Now it’s time I use that education for at least getting two meals a day, which not possible without education,” Mehnaz says.
Mehnaz’s words are the potential solution to so many of our country’s problems – educating its women.
The author is a freelance features writer and editor.