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Sydney South NSW 1235, Level 11, 227 Elizabeth Street Sydney NSW 2000

Telephone: 1800 812 164

© 2021 Opportunity International AustraliaABN 83 003 805 043

Getting girls back to school

By Opportunity International Australia

Of the children whose schooling was interrupted by COVID-19, it’s emerging that girls are among the hardest hit. Of those who haven’t returned in Pakistan, 60 per cent are girls.

Last year Opportunity assessed the impact of COVID-19 on education in Pakistan. We surveyed 1,188 parents, 362 owners of non-state affordable schools and 252 teachers.

“The most concerning finding was the disparity between parents’ attitude to sending girls back to school (31 per cent) compared to boys (94 per cent) when schools reopened,” says Head of EduFinance at Opportunity, Andrew McCusker.

On reopening, 50 per cent of 26 million school-aged children went back to school but of those who did not return, 60 per cent were girls.

“We are now working with our financial institutions to find ways of supporting schools and families with loan products and services to help get children back into the classroom, especially girls,” says Andrew.

The problem for women in Pakistan

Pakistan ranks 153 out of 156 in the Global Gender Gap Report and according to UN Women, 53.6 per cent of women are deprived of education, training, and employment in Pakistan, compared to only 7.4 per cent of men.

The inequality begins early. An estimated 22.5 million children are out of school (majority girls). Thirty-two per cent of primary school-aged girls are out of school, compared with 21 per cent of boys. This gender gap differential persists into middle school, and by grade nine a mere 13 per cent of young women are still enrolled in school.

A group of middle eastern girls sitting in school

Why girls are getting left behind

Poverty: For many parents, the most fundamental barrier to sending their children to school is money. Girls are often kept home to do housework or employed as domestic workers. Poverty also results in early marriages of girls: in Pakistan, 21 per cent of girls marry before age 18, and three per cent marry before age 15.

Access: Schools simply aren’t available in accessible distances and this is a major barrier for girls in rural areas. Extreme regional inequalities exist. There is also limited access for vulnerable populations such as nomadic and internally displaced communities, and children with disabilities.

Traditions: The perception that investing in girls’ education does not result in the economic uplift of families deters parents from sending girls to school. Some still believe girls should not study beyond a certain age. When families violate these norms by keeping their daughters in school, they can face extreme pressure, hostility, disapproval and stigma from their community.

Facilities: A lack of adequate sanitation facilities and sanitation products particularly impacts girls’ retention rates in middle and high schools. Again, girls from poor communities living in remote, rural areas are especially vulnerable.

Harassment: Girls face sexual harassment while traveling to and from school, and it’s the reason many drop out.

The future is female

To effect change, it’s vital to grow an acceptance of the value of girls’ education and development.

More than 50 per cent of school owners in Pakistan are women; and there are more than 1.5 million female teachers in private schools across the country.

“The institutions we work with in Pakistan have developed plans to address this disparity from 2021. These plans include those of one institution, Kashf Foundation, which only lends school improvement loans to schools with a minimum 40 per cent female student ratio and a commitment to increase that percentage; and plans to lend at least 50 per cent of its school improvement loans to schools led by a female,” says Andrew.

There is great need to invest more resources in education and use those resources to address gender disparities. There is so much opportunity in this area, this is only the beginning.

With thanks to: Ayesha Salma Kariapper, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund; Roshaneh Zafar, Kashf Foundation; Dr Sughra Choudry and Humaira Naseer, Aga Khan Foundation; Kashif Mirza, All Pakistan Private Schools Federation; Ghazanfar Azzam, Mobilink Microfinance Bank; and Saqib Siddiqui and Muhammad Faheem Khalid, Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company, for their input.

Opportunity's EduFinance school fee loans make education more accessible, helping to provide higher quality education to communities across the globe.

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