It is not a new or surprising fact, that female literacy is positively correlated with lower infant mortality rates. But such facts are hard to accept as they mean changing societal structures to create more space for women in schools and workplaces. We live in a country where women are never a priority for policy makers, leading to a perpetuation of a cycle of domestic abuse and unhealthy and illiterate children.

A research report published by the British charity Save the Children in 2012 said that Pakistan had the highest rate of first day deaths and stillbirths at 40.7 per 1,000 births, worse off than Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Afghanistan. 57 per cent of the female population of Pakistan is illiterate and this is one reason why Pakistan is still struggling with reducing infant mortality rates.

One of the missed Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was of infant mortality. Pakistan failed to reach the listed target of reducing infant deaths by two-third between 1990 and 2015. Pakistan is grossly off track. The number of deaths of children under 1 year of age per 1000 live births is 69 against the target of 40.

As one of the most powerless groups in society, children often bear the physical and emotional costs of poverty. Low levels of education compel women to engage in labour-intensive, low-paying jobs that generate insufficient income to satisfy the needs of the family. The distress and poor health conditions that result from these conditions, coupled with the fact that fewer than half of women have a skilled health worker present at birth make a disastrous combination.

Educated mothers give due importance to nutrition, hygiene and immunisation of children against vaccine preventable diseases. They  can also generate more income for the household, and are more likely to spend earnings on the health of their children than men are.

Making women a priority in the health and education sectors always pays of in the long term with higher national wealth creation, healthier children, and lower levels of household and communal violence. It is unfortunate that Pakistan does not make such investments.