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Pakistan Roundtable Guests Call For Education, Equal Treatment Of Girls

PAKISTAN -- A girl attends a makeshift school at a city park in Islamabad, November 13, 2018. Human Rights Watch reports that millions of girls in Pakistan are still out of school.
PAKISTAN -- A girl attends a makeshift school at a city park in Islamabad, November 13, 2018. Human Rights Watch reports that millions of girls in Pakistan are still out of school.

To mark the United Nations International Day Of The Girl October 11, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Pashto language service, Radio Mashaal, hosted a live discussion on the status of girls in the rural communities of Pakistan, with a special focus on barriers to their achievement in education and employment.

The theme for the UN day this year was A Skilled Girl Force. While educated and skilled workers are in great demand around the world, roughly a quarter of young people—most of them female—are currently neither employed nor receiving education or training, according to the UN. When young women in developing countries like Pakistan enter the workforce, it is usually in low-wage, informal sectors and unskilled positions.

Three guests participated in the Radio Mashaal discussion: Ziauddin Yousafzai, girls’ education activist and father of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai; writer and poet Arif Tabassum; and mother of two girls Jamila Palwal. Participants agreed that girls in the region face gender discrimination from birth due to their lack of identity in patriarchal, tribal societies. The guests related their personal experiences of favoritism shown towards boys within families in terms of clothes, education, and even food when the means to provide are scarce.

Yousafzai implored listeners to believe in the abilities and strengths of their daughters, adding that his proudest achievement in life is to be known because of his daughter. Tabassum said men and women have to be able to work together as equals “if they want to see prosperity and progress in their societies.” Palwal said she hoped she and other parents can raise their children not as boys or girls, but “as human beings who can do something for our societies.”

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The guests concluded that increasing girls’ access to education in Pakistan is the single most important step toward improving their lives.

According to the November Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled Shall I Feed My Daughter, Or Educate Her, more than 22 million children in Pakistan are not in school, including one-third of primary-school girls and 21 percent of the country's boys. By sixth grade, 59 percent of Pakistani girls are no longer attending school, with many of them forced to work to help their families make ends meet.

Acting senior editor for Radio Mashaal and producer of the special discussion program Ahmad Shah Azami said Radio Mashaal’s efforts to address child illiteracy, child labor, and the lack of facilities for children at schools is unique in the country, as are its programs on youth and women’s issues, religious minorities, family health, and human rights. The Service covers stories of rape, “honor” killings, acid attacks, forced marriage, and child marriage -- acts of violence that HRW’s report claims stem from the gender inequalities perpetuated by a lack of education for girls.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry shut down Radio Mashaal’s Islamabad bureau in January 2018, branding its programs as “against the interests of Pakistan.” Mashaal continues to use cross-border AM and shortwave radio to reach its audience, and is active online. The Service counts more than 1.6 million Facebook fans, and registered 81 million video views on Facebook and 10 million views on YouTube in 2017.