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A plan to get girls in school in Pakistan

©World Bank
"Education probably endures change in many societies and in Pakistan it is probably still one of the most critical things to achieve the sorts of success you want in other spheres," says Tara Vishwanath, a lead economist in the WB's South Asia Region.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 4 May 2006—A new World Bank report prompts the idea of offering families in Pakistan stipends to ensure girls have safe transportation to schools. It’s an idea the Bank would like propose to the Government of Pakistan.

With a simple statement, a mother from Lodhran in southern Punjab, Pakistan, told why she did not send her daughter to school.

"Our village elder, my father, said that if our daughter goes outside the village to study, it will become a problem of our honor," said Naseem.

A new World Bank report finds concern about family honor is a major factor behind why many parents don’t send their girls to school – particularly in rural areas where villages may have no school facilities and the girls would be forced to travel outside of their communities.

The Bank’s Country Gender Assessment(CGA) report on Pakistan finds overall concern about security and reputation is restricting women’s movement outside the home in Pakistan – and limiting their access not only to education, but also to medical care, opportunities for paid work, voting, and other forms of political and community participation.

Bridging the Gap

Vishwanath says educating girls provides the shortest route to bridging the gender gap and to realizing the development dividends in Pakistan – a country where she says "the status of women is improving but there’s a long way to go."

While the report finds restrictions on mobility are undercutting the ability of women to access services, it also finds there have been major improvements in Pakistan. Vishwanath says overall the gains have mostly been in immunization of children and small improvements in ante-natal care.

It says over the years women’s participation in the workforce has witnessed a steady improvement in Pakistan. However Vishwanath says it’s a finding that relates to an increasing number of women working in agriculture and in the unpaid sector – not in paid jobs.

Few Women in Formal Workforce

"Among rural women that do participate in the workforce – 60 percent are in unpaid work," she says. "There are very few women who are educated and work in mainly in services – very, very small in number. I would say one in six."

Vishwanath says while there are big challenges to achieve gender equality in Pakistan, "the one issue that is most important to address and address quickly is education."

"The net primary enrolment rate for girls is still only about 42 to 45 percent. As the girls transition to middle school, there’s a high number of drop-outs, and so virtually, very, very few girls go on to complete middle school and very, very few thereafter go onto secondary or high school."

Sending the Girls Alone

But Vishwanath says it’s a myth to suggest parents are unwilling to send their girls to school. "When we ask parents, they all value an education. But in Pakistan, particularly as the girls hit puberty, one of the biggest concerns for families is sending their girls alone to school, especially when the school is outside the community they live in."

"They are concerned about allowing a girl to walk outside her community alone. And that comes not necessarily from the fear of them being kidnapped or anything like that. It’s much more related to the cultural practices I think which take the form of seclusion practices – purdah – and things that we know about."

It’s a finding which raises an immediate possibility – overcome the problem by constructing more schools in local communities. But as the report points out, there’s a clear financial constraint to going down that path.

And it points out another constraint – there are simply too few educated women in many Pakistani villages to staff schools for girls.

Overcoming the Catch-22

With that potential Catch-22 situation, Viswanath says they asked parents what if safe transportation could be provided for their daughters – would they then send them to school? "An overwhelming majority were actually quite excited by that proposition. They said they would send their girls, provided they found a solution."

"So we are actually going to propose to the government that we try and do a pilot in some districts, where we either design a stipend, which is pegged to the distance of the school, or actually propose some kind of safe transportation mediation by the local governments.

"We have to discuss with them which ones will actually work, within the ambit of the current policies they have on girls’ education. But we are on our way to Pakistan to try and introduce such an idea and see if this will bite."

A Stipend for Travel

Vishwanath says stipend programs have operated in Pakistan before. "At the moment, there’s a stipend program in Punjab, Pakistan, part of which the Bank is supporting through our education program. It’s a program to support middle school aged girls in Punjab.

"So what we’re suggesting is why not design a stipend program in relation to subsidizing the provision of safe transportation. We’re thinking of going to areas where there are no girls’ schools within the settlements, in the majorities of villages we look at.

"You want to try this program for middle school, because that is where the problem is very acute," Viswanath says.

"Education probably endures change in many societies and in Pakistan it is probably still one of the most critical things to achieve the sorts of success you want in other spheres."



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