SEATTLE, Washington — Pakistan came in second in the world’s worst countries for gender equality. The primary school completion rate for Pakistani females in 2018 was only 64 percent. When women are given the opportunity to receive an education they create a healthier and more prosperous life for themselves and their families. They become innovators that grow economies and leaders that stabilize communities. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act would ensure that at least 50 percent of the USAID scholarships are awarded to women in Pakistan.
Who is Malala Yousafzai?
Born in Mingora, Pakistan on July 12, 1997, Malala Yousafzai had aspirations for a lifetime of learning. When she was 10, the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley where Yousafzai and her family lived and everything began to change. A pillar of the Taliban’s terror campaign was banning girls from attending school. Despite backlash from the Pakistani Taliban, Malala began to speak out for the rights of girls and women to have access to education. In October 2012, Malala was shot in the head after school by a member of the Pakistani Taliban.
While recovering in the U.K., Malala continued to use her voice for both inspiration and opposition. She co-founded the Malala Fund with her father. Its mission is to secure “12 years of safe, free and quality education” for girls across the globe. When delivering a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, she said “let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are the most powerful weapons… Education is the only solution.” The following year, Malala was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her call to action to expand access to education for young people.
Female Education in Pakistan
Pakistan ranks second in the world for the most girls out of school. Only 13 percent of girls remain in school by the ninth grade, and more than one-third of young girls do not attend primary school at all. There are many reasons why female education is hindered in Pakistan. Three significant reasons are the Taliban preaching that female education goes against the Islamic faith, the lack of government funding for girls’ schools and harmful gender norms.
Harmful gender norms include the common belief that girls should not be educated beyond a certain age. Another is that girls should be removed from the educational system when they go through puberty to diminish the possibility of romantic relationships. The lack of female education in Pakistan is a part of a larger gender inequality landscape. Violence against women, including domestic violence, acid attacks, kidnapping, rape and child marriage, remains a growing problem across the country. When schools are not easily accessible, many families cite security concerns as reasons to keep girls from attending classes.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act (H.R.4508) was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) on September 26, 2019. The objective of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is to expand the number of scholarships that are available to Pakistani women under the USAID Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program (MNBSP).
In the last two decades, USAID has attempted to bolster female education by awarding more than 6,000 scholarships to young Pakistani women for higher education. The Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program was established by USAID and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to fund full-tuition scholarships to talented but economically-disadvantaged Pakistani youth interested in a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act states that at least 50 percent of the MNBSP scholarships available must be awarded to women each year from 2020 to 2022. The Act requires a yearly briefing that provides data that includes:
- The total number of scholarships awarded by gender through the program, the chosen discipline of study by each scholarship recipient.
- The percentage of scholarships awarded for both bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees.
- The percentage of scholarship recipients who failed to meet program requirements or voluntarily dropped out of school.
Empowering Females through Education
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act would do more than just provide Pakistani females the opportunity to receive higher education. It would help strengthen economies, stabilize communities and improve quality of life. Educated women become working women, bolstering the economy and creating more jobs. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act empowers a new generation of Pakistani women to create a better world for both themselves and their communities.
Women who receive secondary education can earn up to twice as much as women with no education at all. When women are empowered through education and work opportunities, they stabilize communities by identifying local problems, creating improvements and engaging with public institutions. This stabilization is vital for global security because extremism grows from lack of opportunity, disenfranchisement and inequality. The risk of war is cut almost in half when a country provides secondary education for all children.
Aside from the risks of conflict, the general quality of life is improved when women receive an education. Educated women have fewer children while earning more. They, therefore, lift their families out of poverty. Child marriage and infant mortality rates decrease when women are educated because staying in school means delaying marriage and making more knowledgeable health care decisions for themselves. Women who participate in the labor market “invest 90 percent of their income back into their families” while men invest only 35 percent.
Creating change for Pakistani women through the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act can start with just one phone call or email. Congressional Leaders care about their constituents’ opinions. When enough U.S. citizens rise up together to advocate for specific legislation, those bills are passed in Congress. Contacting representatives in Washington D.C. is easy, The Borgen Project has set up a pre-written email system to support the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act.
– Trey Ross