After the Dakar World Education Forum held in April 2000, “Education for All” has become the slogan for the education sector worldwide. Pakistan is the signatory of the international accord, universal primary education under the Education for All 2015 Frameworks. In this respect Pakistan has to achieve 100 percent primary school enrollment target till 2015 which seems impossible. Among developing and South Asian countries, Pakistan still remains a country with a momentous number of out of school children. UNICEF reports more than half of the primary school going age children (5-9) remain out of school. Most amazingly, seven million out of 13 million out of school children are girls. The education system of Pakistan is riddled with many problems but the most pressing problem is high dropout rate of girls at primary level. One of the most significant features of Pakistan education system after the historical 18th amendment is the decentralization of its educational system. This policy is in response to the cultural diversity of the nation and there is need to satisfy internal public pressures for self-determination. In August 2009, the government granted self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and created a legislative assembly. The legislative assembly chaired by the federal minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan has limited powers.
The last government of Pakistan People’s Party in Gilgit-Baltistan under the leadership of Mehdi Shah has failed miserably in protecting the rights of females. This could be seen from the rise of reported suicide attempts of females in different regions of Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite lack of government support and all the hurdles girls like Samina and Diana Baig have been able to shine worldwide for Pakistan belonging to the most remote areas of the region.
The Dakar framework also emphasizes on vulnerable children to make them part of the school system globally. In Gilgit-Baltistan patriarchal thinking has made females in rural areas of the region a marginalized and vulnerable group and due to sectarian violence and negligence of the government, Gilgit-Baltistan school going girls are facing many dangerous challenges as compared to schoolgirls in other parts of Pakistan. The history of female education in Gilgit-Baltistan is disheartening. Due to remoteness of the region from the rest of the country, there has been less awareness among the people about female education. According to the 1998 census; the literacy rate was reported to be 37.8 per cent (male 52.6 per cent and female 21.6 per cent) in Gilgit-Baltistan area. Female literacy rate in certain areas such as Baltistan was reported to be as low as 13 percent.
The enrolment patterns in Gilgit-Baltistan are characterized by high dropout rate which was 8% in 2011, according to the department of education Gilgit-Baltistan. The disadvantages that females in Gilgit-Baltistan experience in education and literacy are symptomatic of many other aspects of their lives as well. According to World Bank, GB Economic Report, 2010, cultural and social barriers also limit the mobility of students, particularly girls, even when schools are available. Cultural norms also engender a bias against investing in girls’ education in GB. The issue is particularly acute in the district of Diamer and to some extent in pockets of Skardu, which are by no means are less connected than Ghizer and Ghanche, but perform poorly on girls’ education due to a more pronounced gender bias. Although approximately, 520 schools are co-educational, even where schools are nominally co-educational, enrolments are invariably heavily skewed towards boys. Indeed, more than 100 co-educational schools in Astore and Diamer have no girls enrolled at all. As, the elections about to approach in the region political parties remain silent on this issue and are trying to get vote again on the basis of sectarian division. The next government of Gilgit-Baltistan has to take bold steps for the education of females or the paradise will remain hell for females of the region.
—The writer Umer Hussain is a social activist working for the rights of vulnerable children.