International Day of the Girl Child : Pakistan’s future depends on addressing girls’ access to school

The attribution of the Sakharov Prize to Malala Yousafzai yesterday reminds of the numerous challenges still impeding the protection and promotion of women and girls’ fundamental rights in Pakistan.

FIDH and HRCP welcome the decision to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to 16 year-old Malala Yousafzai and urge the government of Pakistan and the international community to wake up to the urgent necessity to tackle the exclusion of girls from education in the country.

Malala’s courage and relentless efforts to promote the access of girls to school in Pakistan, and her resilience in the aftermath of the attempt on her life just over a year ago, must be met with renewed energy and concrete measures to ensure that all children in Pakistan receive an education.

It is devastating that around 5,1 million children, the majority of them girls, remain out of school in Pakistan. It is now clear that the country will not achieve its goal of providing universal primary education by 2015, as set by the Millennial Development Goals. Authorities at all levels must follow up and implement the 2012 Federal Free and Compulsory Education Bill, and put an emphasis on girls’ access to school, said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson and FIDH Vice President.

Despite the positive momentum resulting from Malala’s campaigning and international mobilization on her behalf, the year 2013 also saw many setbacks, including countless attacks against women teachers and school girls across Pakistan. In January, five teachers were killed near the town of Swabi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In March, a school principal was killed and his students severely injured when a bomb was tossed into a school playground at an all-girl school in Karachi. In June, a suicide bomber blew up a bus carrying forty university girls in Quetta. Fourteen students were killed. In August, a teacher was shot as she drove into the all-girl school where she worked.

The multiplication of violent attacks against women teachers and school girls is met with impunity. In Malala’s case, the 23-year old student identified on the day following the shooting as the gunman, remains at large. Six other men arrested for involvement in the attack were released for lack of evidence. Finally, the cleric who ordered the attaché was confirmed to be hiding in Afghanistan, Zohra Yusuf added.

This climate of impunity fuels violations of the rights of women and girls. We urge the Government of Pakistan, with the support of the international community, to demonstrate that declarations on the importance of access to education are not just words but a reality for women and girls in Pakistan, Mr Lahidji added.

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