Out of School Girls Enjoy Their Right to Education in Southern Punjab
By: Fatima Shahryar
BAHAWALPUR DISTRICT, PAKISTAN, February 2014– Living far away from the urban setting, at the edge of the Cholistan Desert in Southern Punjab, is no impediment for girls in terms of exercising their right to education. Their passion to learn and teach is strong enough to overcome poverty, tough domestic routine and unavailability of a proper school, usual barriers to education in remote rural areas of Pakistan.
Rabya Kausar (22) is the youngest of eight siblings belonging to a poor and disadvantaged family living in Basti Dubbaywali. A rare exception amongst women of her community, Rabya holds a Bachelor’s degree and is the symbol of determination for receiving and imparting education.
“My father was a government school teacher and my inspiration towards education,” says Rabya. “He used to take me and my siblings to school on a bicycle every day. Against the community’s perception that girls don’t need education, he not only got us educated but also encouraged us to work and put our knowledge to good use.”
“It is a source of pride for me that my daughter is a teacher. People, who would earlier try to stop us from sending our children to school, now bring their own children to the Centre. There is no alternate to education. It is a must for everyone.” Rabya’s mother, Hazoor bibi.
Rabya teaches at the Non-Formal Education Centre (NFEC) for girls in Basti Dubbaywali which is one of the 30 centres being operated by Hayat Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, with support from UNICEF in Bahawalpur, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan Districts of Southern Punjab. This centre has been operative only for two months and already more than 40 girls between the ages of 7 to 18 are enrolled in it. Some of these girls have never been to school before.
“It is a source of pride for me that my daughter is a teacher.” says Rabya’s mother, Hazoor bibi. “People, who would earlier try to stop us from sending our children to school, now bring their own children to the Centre. There is no alternate to education. It is a must for everyone.”
The NFEC is established to provide basic education to Out-of-School Girls (OOSG) in Basti Dubbaywali. These girls belong to marginalized families who are either unable to afford education for their children or don’t realise its importance. Earning a living is their biggest challenge and priority. It keeps them from sending their children, especially girls to school. Distance between home and school is another obstacle. If girls have to commute a long distance to get to school, their families fear for their safety. Having an NFEC within the village is a blessing and an attraction for girls who wish to receive education.
Khalida Batool (16), a resident of Basti Dubbaywali, is also among girls who have never been to a school before. Helping her mother in earning a living for their household, she makes cane baskets and sells them to support her family.
“My mother is the sole bread-winner of our family as my father is blind and cannot work.” says Khalida. “This is the first time that I am receiving proper education. Learning to read and write excites me and I attend school regularly. I wake up early to help my mother in household work, revise my school lesson and then come to school. I aspire to become a teacher and be able to educate other girls like myself one day.”
“My mother is the sole bread-winner of our family as my father is blind and cannot work. This is the first time that I am receiving proper education. Learning to read and write excites me and I attend school regularly. I aspire to become a teacher and be able to educate other girls like myself one day.” Khalida Batool.
Education is every child’s right and as part of its commitment to ‘Education for All’, UNICEF is implementing the project on ‘Equitable Access to Education for Marginalized Out-of-School Girls’ in Districts D.G Khan, Bahawalpur and Rajanpur in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. The project aims to enrol 3,950 Children from Katchi (Pre-Primary) to grade 3 in 90 government schools. In addition, 1,200 marginalized Out-of-School Girls are to be enrolled in 30 NFECs to acquire a Basic Education Equivalency Certificate.
"The project initiated by UNICEF through the funding of the Norwegian Committee for UNICEF is focusing on the provision of equitable access to education for most marginalized children, especially girls in three districts of Punjab,” says Sehr Qizalbash, UNICEF Education Officer. “These non-formal schools have been set up in areas where the communities access to formal schools was difficult due to distance, hence their non-willingness to send children at a distant school. In these remotest areas, girls like Rabya have emerged as role models and have motivated communities to send more children to schools, who otherwise would have been deprived of this fundamental right.”