Since the world first celebrated International Woman's Day over 108 years ago, significant progress has made been towards gender equality. But the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have shown that discrimination, harassment and gender inequality are still everyday problems for women across the world.
This year’s theme is ‘Press for Progress’ and so the UK is focusing on a better education for all girls and women around the globe. The UK Foreign Secretary has spoken at length on the importance of girls’ education and recently called for 12 years of quality education for all children but especially girls. As the UK’s advocates for gender equality in Pakistan, our mission is to promote this as the single most effective means of eradicating poverty and advancing equality in Pakistan. Around 61 million girls worldwide between the ages of five and fourteen are out of school even today. As the Foreign Secretary said recently, this is a moral outrage. When discrimination is widespread, the world does not reap the benefits of including women in decision-making.
Pakistan has witnessed numerous examples of strong, inspirational women that can serve as a beacon for a brighter and a more prosperous future, including: Asma Jahangir, a global champion of human rights; and Benazir Bhutto, the first democratically elected woman leader of a Muslim majority nation. In other fields Malala Yousafzai continues to fly the flag for girls’ education globally and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy makes hard-hitting documentaries on issues that affect women, and ultimately the progress of Pakistan. But with a ranking of 143 out of 144 on the Gender Gap Index, it is vital that all of us in Pakistan pursue activism on gender equality and girls’ education. The challenges are numerous and complex and will take a lot of commitment to tackle. Fortunately Pakistan recognises the scale of the problem and has begun the journey to address these.
The UK is investing in girls’ education in Pakistan on various fronts and we intend to do even more in the coming years. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is working to get more girls into schools; the prestigious Chevening scholarship is giving Pakistani women access to some of the best universities in the world; and the British Council is improving outcomes for women and girls through improved access to, and quality of, education. Since 2011 alone DFID have supported over 6.5 million girls through £750m of funding; and the British Council have provided access to education to over 90,000 schoolgirls with the their award-winning Take a Child to School programme.
Through these activities, delivered in partnership with Pakistani stakeholders, we are creating a positive change for women and girls across Pakistan, developing trust and understanding between our two countries and delivering lasting impact. We’re delighted to see results and are keen to contribute towards building a better learning environment for women and girls here. Pakistan has committed 4% of its GDP on education by 2020, and provincial governments have committed to a minimum of 20% of their devolved budgets. We strongly welcome this. And it works: in Punjab alone, student participation has increased from 79% in 2011 to 95% last year.
We are reminded of a quote from the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah: “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”.
If we can invest in this third power to improve outcomes for women and girls, we will enable Pakistan to realise its full potential and, ultimately, to flourish. The UK will continue to work closely with Pakistan to achieve stability, prosperity and equality in the years ahead.
(Joanna Reid is the Head of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Pakistan. Joanna Roper is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Special Envoy for Gender Equality Rosemary Hilhorst is the director of British Council in Pakistan)