This article is part of Resurrect This Bill!, a series of articles highlighting bills that have “died in a previous Congress.” These bills, if passed, would enable America to make great progress in the fight against global poverty and help ensure American national security.
SILVER SPRING, Maryland — Named after the courageous Pakistani education activist, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act seeks to “expand the number of scholarships available to Pakistani women under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program.”
It builds on Pakistani and international efforts to improve women and girls’ access to education. Pakistan has the world’s largest Fulbright Scholarship Program through which it sends its brightest students to America to pursue their education. To address the women and girls’ educational needs, in 2012, the United Nations and the Pakistani government established the “Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education,” with Pakistan supplying $10 million.
The fund is part of a larger movement, Education for All, or EFA, a United Nations initiative spearheaded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations, or UNESCO, and the World Bank dedicated to, among other things, “eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.”
In 2013, the fund received a large boost in support after establishing a partnership with The CEO Institute, an Australian business organization with 1,000 different businesses as its members. Ken Gunn, the chairman of The CEO Institute, was “delighted” by the opportunity to “improv[e]educational opportunities wherever there is discrimination and disadvantage.”
The United States has already committed itself to improving educational opportunities for Pakistani women. The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is enthusiastically committed, calling education a “silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide.” USAID also maintains the PAK-USAID Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program, which works with Pakistani universities to help finance the education of Pakistani students in need of financial aid. In 2013, half of the 974 scholarship recipients were Pakistani women.
To maximize the benefits of the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act now seeks to ensure that at least 50 percent of the program’s scholarships go to Pakistani women. It is particularly important to focus on women in Pakistan’s case because Pakistan has a “severe gender disparity,” resulting in “entrenched gender disadvantages” for women, even after accounting for poverty.
UNESCO’s 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report found that while poorer Pakistanis aged 17 to 22 were less likely to have two years of education, the women in that group were even less likely than men to have that level of education. In the case of poor Pakistanis, the disparity was significantly greater than the disparity between rich Pakistani men and women.
In light of this information, investing in women’s education, especially in Pakistan, would yield, as it already has, substantial returns. In its 2004 report, “What Works in Girls’ Education,” the Council on Foreign Relations found that “[a]100-country study by the World Bank shows that increasing the share of women with a secondary education by 1 percent boosts annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percentage points.” The evidence in the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report indicates that trend may be accurate, reporting that “in Pakistan, women with a high level of literacy earned 95 percent more than women with no literacy skills.”
These are all benefits from simply increasing access to primary and secondary education. It would not be unreasonable to expect even greater returns from investing in higher education in Pakistan, especially when the requirements of scholarships from the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program would encourage progress.
All scholarship recipients are “academically talented” students who are committed to studying business administration, agriculture and veterinary sciences, social sciences and medical sciences. Per the requirements of the scholarship, every one of these students are enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program. The contributions of a generation of Pakistani businesswomen, doctors, scientists and engineers would be vast.
Despite all the potential of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, the bill died in 2014 because the Senate did not pass it. The year before, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) attempted to pass a bill (S.120) also called “The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act.” However, the Senate bill never made it past the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
In terms of substance, the House and Senate forms of The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act are virtually the same, except for one key difference. Unlike the House version, the Senate version indicates the source of funding for the Scholarship: the “Economic Support Fund” that has been used to support Pakistan. From that fund, the Secretary of State “shall make available not less than $3,000,000 for scholarships.”
America spent that same amount of money in less than nine hours fighting ISIS.
– Dean Delasalas