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Call to treat education of girls as national cause

Call to treat education of girls as national cause

By: Anil Datta

Karachi: The private sector has the dire responsibility to give impetus to education, especially among girls; the private sector just does not have the wherewithal, financial or otherwise, to shoulder the responsibility without resorting to donations and other fund-raising.

This was stated by Amer Zahoor, member of the Girl Rising Pakistan team, at a hotel on Tuesday at the showing of the film Girl Rising, which highlights the indispensable need for educating girls as a means to national development and the overall progress of society.

“We have to change the educational landscape among girls and have to take it up as a national cause,” said Zahoor.

This was followed by a two-hour film showcasing the strength of the human spirit, the spirit to fight odds with iron determination and changing the world by educating girls.

Based on individual case studies from various countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the film had certain, very unflattering statistics to present, statistics that should set planners and rulers thinking about the way a sphere of activity as vital as female education was going by default.

It is the case study of nine girls from three continents, girls born into extremely humble circumstances, the kind of humble circumstance that are compounded by retrogressive values and terribly adverse social circumstances.

It is a story of how the social and cultural barriers, coupled with poverty and misery, give rise to devastating social consequences.

The film highlights the daunting challenges as these girls transit into adolescence in much of the developing world, and finally lands the message: educating girls will change the world.

According to the commentary accompanying the film, 66 million girls around the world are currently out of school; there are 33 million fewer girls than boys enrolled in primary schools.

If the enrolment of girls in Indian schools were to go up by 1 percent, the country’s GDP would go up by Rs5.5 billion; 14 million girls in the developing world will get married before reaching the age of 18, which will not only be a violation of the legally mandated adulthood age of 18, but would also have a devastating effect on the mothers’ health.

The statistics for Pakistan are as gloomy. According to a Unesco study, the primary school enrolment for girls stands at 60 percent as compared to 84 percent for boys, even though women outnumber men in the country’s total population. Regular school attendance for girls is 41 percent, while for boys it is over 50 percent.

The case studies were from locales as far apart as India and Peru, and are stories of grim determination of the girls to fight the social, cultural and financial odds.

There’s the case of Rukhsana from the Indian city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Rukhsana is scolded and asked to leave the class by her teacher for drawing sketches in the Maths class.

Later, she comes back and is again shunted out. But her father, who’s a really understanding and loving person, encourages her and helps her all the way.

Apart from the gloomy circumstances that afflict the Third World societies, the film, willy-nilly, also highlights the devastatingly and overly punitive approach that teachers and parents harbour towards the youngsters, which can have devastating effects.

Rukhsana’s teacher, instead of seeking to arouse the child’s interest in the subject, which is the primary duty of a teacher, turns her out of the class in the most humiliating of manner.

Here’s also the case of another girl child from Peru who is refused permission by her teacher to sit in the classroom because she doesn’t have money to pay the fee.

This case amply highlights the morbidly capitalist approach whereby everything is just up for sale, human welfare just doesn’t figure, and even education is a commodity available off the shelf at a department store.

There’s also the case of Ameena from Afghanistan who battles all odds to make a place for herself in society.

The inaccuracy creeps in when the background commentator says, “Never before in the history of the country has such a case been witnessed.”

Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the commentary fails to acknowledge that during the tenure of King Zahir Shah and later during the Saur Revolution, primary education for both boys and girls was compulsory in Afghanistan. Fifty-seven percent of the enrolment in Kabul University was that of women.

Directed by Richard Robbins, the film has among the narrators such celebrities as Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Priyanka Chopra, Salma Hayek and Cate Blanchett.

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