There are almost 22.5 million kids out of school. Girls are affected in particular. In Pakistan, 32% of girls in primary school age are out of school, compared with 21% of boys. By sixth grade, 59% of girls are out of school, compared to 49% of boys.

Just 13 percent of girls in ninth grade are still in school. All boys and girls in disproportionate numbers are losing out on schooling, but girls are worst affected. Political instability, disproportionate influence on security forces ‘ governance, repression of civil society and the media, violent insurgency, and escalating ethnic and religious tensions are all poisoning Pakistan’s current social landscape. These forces are distracting from the government’s obligation to deliver important services such as education— and girls are losing most.

There are large numbers of out- of-school children across the country, and significant gender disparities in education, but some areas are much worse than others. In Balochistan, the province with the lowest percentage of educated women, 81% of women did not finish primary school , compared with 52% of men. Seventy-five per cent of women had never attended school at all, compared to 40 percent of men. According to this data, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had higher education rates but equally wide gender disparities. Sindh and Punjab had higher education rates and slightly lower gender disparities, but gender disparities remained between 14 and 21 per cent.

Generation after generation of children, particularly girls, are locked out of education throughout all provinces— and into poverty. Most girls spoke about their desire for learning over and over again, their desire to “be someone,” and how these hopes were shattered by being unable to learn.

Lacking girls access to education is part of Pakistan’s wider gender inequality landscape. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia. Violence against women and girls including rape, so-called’ honor’ killings and violence, acid attacks, domestic violence, forced marriage and child marriage is a serious problem, and government responses are deficient. Twenty-one percent of females marry as children. However, there is a serious gender disparity in each province, a high percentage of out- of-school boys and girls, and clear flaws in the government’s educational approach.

MISBAH IMTIAZ,

Islamabad.