WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2015 Oslo Summit on Education and Development ranked Pakistan as one of the worst countries in the world in terms of education. In 2018, 22.5 million children in Pakistan were not in school. Overall, girls are much less likely to receive an education. In the province of Balochistan, 81 percent of girls did not finish primary school in 2014 as opposed to 52 percent of boys. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is working to change these statistics.
Girls’ Education in Pakistan
Girls in Pakistan have been historically discriminated against, particularly through their education. This happens for a multitude of systemic reasons, including long-standing cultural beliefs, absence of safe environments and issues relating to poverty. Rural communities lack transport infrastructure and have fewer secondary education buildings. These factors are not specific to Pakistan. Even though many modernized countries have begun to create an equal society for both genders, poorer countries have seen stunted social development. It has been shown in the cases of many countries that a poor economic climate enhances gender disparity in conjunction with traditional social practices.
Pakistan’s poverty rate is almost 25 percent. Much of that percentage does not have physical access to higher education services. By investing in women’s education, Pakistan may facilitate an environment that is crucial for sustainable economic growth and the empowerment of women. It would also allow families to seek out more education for their children in the future. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is a piece of U.S. legislation that seeks to help Pakistan with this endeavor.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act
Malala Yousafzai has been outspoken about women’s education in Pakistan since she was a teenager. Despite objections from the Pakistani Taliban, Yousafzai began advocating for women and girls to have better access to education in 2008. On October 9, 2012, while on her way home from school, Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban. After recovering in the U.K., Yousafzai worked resiliently to start the Malala Fund. The Fund works to secure 12 years of safe, free, quality education for all girls. Yousafzai earned the Nobel Peace Prize as a co-recipient in 2014 for her advocacy and positive efforts.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act expands on the goals of the Malala Fund by allocating the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds and administrative capacities. USAID reflects its dedication to international education through its 2018 Education Policy: It states “the primary purpose of programming in education by USAID is to achieve sustained, measurable improvements in learning outcomes and skills development.” USAID has also been a long-standing supporter of gender equality.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act can be viewed as supplemental legislation to USAID’s Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program. The program works in conjunction with the Pakistani government in order to provide full-tuition scholarships to Pakistanis based on scholarly merit and income level. The legislation specifies that 50 percent of all scholarship recipients be girls from 2020 to 2022. This would ensure that young girls are not discouraged to apply for the scholarship and that the scholarships are awarded evenly across genders to keep in line with USAID’s Education Policy.
The USAID Administrator will also work with the Pakistani private sector and Pakistani communities in the U.S. to improve the quality of, expand access to and ensure the sustainability of education programs in Pakistan. The USAID Administrator will then brief the appropriate congressional committees annually for four years on the program’s successes. The administrator will report on how many scholarships were awarded and what the areas of study were chosen by recipients. The report will also include how many recipients are planning on pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree and how many dropped out of schooling for both voluntary and involuntary reasons.
The Bill’s Progress
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-8) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO-2) introduced The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on September 26, 2019. The bill passed the committee unanimously with 28 cosponsors spanning across party lines in December 2019. The next step for the bill is to bring it to the House of Representatives for voting and approval. If the legislation passes the House, it is brought to the Senate where it will face committee scrutiny once again. Finally, the bill will be brought to the Senate floor for voting. If the bill passes and the President signs it into law, the ball will begin rolling for gender equality in Pakistan.
Encouraging girls to attend school is not only beneficial for the obvious social and mental benefits. It is also beneficial for the world’s economy on the whole and would help combat economic factors preventing girls from attending school in the first place. The World Bank states that education has a positive effect on women’s health and incomes. Women will “participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age” as well as make more informed choices about their children’s education.
From a political standpoint, the U.S. creates an even stronger American-Pakistani alliance for the future by encouraging the betterment of the Pakistani population. If Pakistan’s economy booms, the U.S. can work with the growing country to facilitate economic growth domestically as well. Additionally, by educating women, the U.S. facilitates the stand-alone growth in Pakistan wherein the people are able to develop themselves as they see fit. This better ensures all social needs are tailored and met for different communities rather than having the goals developed by a foreign power.
The benefits of women’s education are concisely summarized in Rep. Jeffries’ statement to The Borgen Project. Rep. Jeffries explained, “When girls are able to fulfill their education, they help lift their families, communities and nations out of poverty. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act would expand the pipeline of disadvantaged women entering higher education in Pakistan. It’s a strong step in the right direction.”
To voice your support for the importance of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, email your congressional leaders through The Borgen Project’s website.
– Graham Gordon