Girls’ education is all the more important because they are the ones who are going to bring up our next generations. That saying of Napoleon Bonaparte has become a cliché now, “Give me an educated mother, I shall promise you the birth of a civilized, educated nation”. Nonetheless, it remains as relevant as ever. I would not elaborate it any further because the purpose of this blog is not persuading you to educate your girls – I am sure those reading this blog do not need any persuasion for that – but to share my personal experiences while discussing girls’ education with communities in some remote villages. I have been associated with a project ‘Girls’ Education beyond Primary Level’ being implemented in district Chakwal by Bedari with financial support from Girls Education International – A US based organization. I am a kind of Program Advisor/Consultant. I have used this term just because my friends in development sector would understand it, though my relationship with this project is difficult to define. This project has provided me opportunities to interact with various communities in remote villages, and discuss girls’ education with men, women and girls themselves. I have drawn two conclusions:
- It is a myth that people are against girls’ education or not interested in educating their girls.
- The biggest hurdle in educating their girls is not lack of schools, money or will, but lack of transport.
Let me elaborate the above two points:
I have, through my personal interaction, found that most of the people/communities want to educate their girls. Some of them are taking serious pains to send their girls to school. Zia ud Din Yousufzai (Malala’s Father) is not the only one. I have come across so many Zia ud Dins trying hard to keep their girls in school. In my recent visit to Maira Aemah (District Chakwal), I found that there were at least 13 families that relocated to nearby town Kallar Kahar just to make it easy for their girls to attend secondary school. Another 15 girls were traveling over 20 kilometers twice a day to reach their schools. Please note that 20 kilometers is a huge distance in remote villages where there is no public transport; where you may have to wait for hours to find a van; where it would take you around 90 minutes to cover a distance of 20 kilometers. In another village Thirchak, the situation was more or less the same. Some families had moved to the nearest town with a secondary school; another 40 girls were traveling 22 kilometers twice a day to attend their schools. There were many more who could not afford this. In Chakki Rangpur, the situation was even worse. It had one primary school but that was not functional. I interviewed two little kids (one boy and one girl) who had just returned from their school but were not carrying school bags. They told me that all the kids from their village walk to the primary school in the neighboring village which is 8 kilometers away. Carrying school bags for such a long distance is too tough for most of them, so the community has found a solution for them. They are allowed to leave their bags at the school. They stay around an hour or so after the school is officially closed. They do their homework at the school, leave their bags in the class room and walk back to their homes. Girls’ mobility is a very serious issue in Pakistan. Boys can use bicycles, motorbikes, or can hang onto any available transport – bus, pickup, truck etc. Girls, on the other hand, have none of these choices. They must have a decent van or bus to carry them. Bicycle or motorbike is not an option. These hurdles in their mobility turn out to be the hurdles in their growth and empowerment. Transport is very expensive. With rising petroleum prices, the fares are going up and up. Though education is free, girls have to pay for their transport. In the three villages I visited, each girl was paying around Rs 2000 (US $ 19) per month. That is a huge cost for a poor family. Other issues are timings of public transport, sexual harassment and personal safety of the girls. Through my discussions with the communities, I have concluded that free transport would be one big step towards putting millions of girls into schools. Interestingly, government provides buses to so many schools and colleges in large urban centers to transport students from their homes to school and vice versa. But this essential facility is not provided to any secondary school in the remote villages and towns.
I would strongly recommend to the civil society organizations to join hands and make one demand from the government – provide buses to all the secondary schools in the country.