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Basic education and gender equality

Real lives

Community commitment puts girls in school in rural Pakistan

© UNICEF/HQ03-0283/Zaidi
Children at different grade levels sit in separate areas of the one-room school in Marriabbad. Although primarily for girls, some boys also attend the school.

Marriabbad, 4 August 2003 – Since 1999, four districts in the predominantly rural province of Balochistan in Pakistan have been working to address the education challenges facing children, especially girls. Where no schools existed within walking distance of many villages, 80 have been built.

One of these schools is in the drought-affected village of Marriabbad in the district of Sibi. There, 11-year-old Naz Bibi – one of 11 siblings – attends with 154 other girls. Naz’s father, Jalal Khan, has been instrumental in promoting education for both girls and boys in the village.

“I have no education, so my wife and I cut crops in the field… [If they go to school] the girls can become teachers and earn money that way,” he says.

© UNICEF/HQ03-0280/Zaidi
Naz raises her hand to answer a question in a second-grade class of her primary school.

Mr. Khan donated a portion of his land and worked with the community to build the school. His wife and he then joined tribal elders and other parents to create an education committee to run the school, provide safe drinking water and basic school supplies, and motivate others to enrol their daughters.

This community-centred government programme supported by UNICEF and AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development), achieved the goal of enrolling 30,000 girls into primary school. What’s more, 84 per cent of pupils in these schools complete their studies, which is remarkable in a country where only 50 per cent of eligible children are in primary school and half of those who enrol soon drop out.

Pakistan is one of 25 priority countries in UNICEF’s '25 by 2005' initiative to accelerate girls’ enrolment and to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

In 2003, almost half of all Pakistanis are children and two-thirds of the country’s 145 million citizens live in rural areas. Although infant and under-five mortality rates declined in the last decade, the poverty rate, at 33 per cent, is rising. More than one-third of children are malnourished and only half are routinely immunized.

Child labour (particularly in domestic and agricultural work), cultural practices, the lack of nearby schools, poor safety and sanitation facilities at school, high teacher-pupil ratios, teacher absenteeism and gender bias all contribute to children’s limited access to education, especially among girls.

But the Marriabbad community sees hope and a better future in educating its girls. “My daughters will never starve because we have educated them,” says Naz’s mother.



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