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New UN plan to get girls in school boosted by Malala’s father

The father of Malala Yousufzai, the girl shot in Pakistan for speaking on behalf of girls education, attended the unveiling of a new plan to get girls around the world into schools.

The Pakistani government and the United Nations‘ education agency unveiled a plan today to motivate girls around the world to enroll in schools by the end of 2015. 

Organizers dubbed it the “Malala Plan,” after Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old education activist who survived being shot by a Taliban gunman in October. Malala’s father, Ziauddin, attended the ceremony along with Pakistan‘s president, Asif Ali Zardari, who announced a $10 million in seed funding for the plan. 

The new plan highlights just how bleak girls’ education in Pakistan has become: More than 1,500 schools have been bombed by the Taliban since 2008 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – the province where Malala comes from. According to recent data, less than 80 percent of children aged 6 to 16 in Pakistan are enrolled in school; of those who do attend, only 36 percent are girls.

Malala’s shooting has added to the pervasive sense of fear among parents and their daughters over attending school in Pakistan. Conservative Islamic values also contribute to many parents sending their sons to religious seminaries and keeping their daughters out of school. While funds for building schools and paying teachers can help, analysts say what’s needed most to get girls to school is improved security and parents valuing education.

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“The frequency of schools being bombed by the Taliban is increasing and the security situation is the biggest deterrent. The majority of the population in Pakistan wants to send their children to schools but what is the state doing to enable a safer environment? Not much,” says Samar Minallah, an anthropologist who has worked on women’s rights extensively in this region bordering with Afghanistan.

Khadim Hussain runs a private network of subsidized schools in the region. He links targeting of school by the Taliban to their narrow-mindedness. “They want the kids to be on the one hand not incorporated or linked to the modern human civilization, and on the other hand to be idle to be recruited quite easily,” Mr. Hussain says.

Former school left as rubble

In a village next to tribal areas of Pakistan, a government school was bombed in July this year. A visit to the location revealed that even four months later the rubble of the bombed out school remains, which locals say serves as a haunting reminder to the parents.

A teacher who taught here, and wishes not to be identified because of threats, says the Taliban have bombed over four schools in his area in last one year. “Teachers, children, and their parents see rubble where the school used to be — seeing it completely destroyed, do you think anyone will have the heart to go to school in such circumstances?”

A student who used to study here echoes the same thoughts. “In the current situation, we are very scared, because there can be a blast anytime, even when we are inside the school. We cannot do anything to stop it. And that is why we are not interested in education anymore,” he says, and also requests anonymity.

Hussain says that while the government talks of commitment to improve the education sector, their implementation is weak. “The security agencies are failing to tackle the attacks and then there is a lack of ownership by government administration at the grassroots level, because the subordinates do not know whose orders to follow. In case of clearing the rubble for example, the security institutions and the provincial government are working independent of each other, and such lack of coordination cannot bring desired results,” he adds.

Why Malala’s father can help

Ms. Minallah says when she worked on reducing violence against women, that husbands had to be involved to bring positive results. “In the same way, fathers need to be involved through effective communication strategies which convince them to send girls to schools, and for example, the sacrifice of Malala’s father is a great symbol to motivate other parents,” she adds.

In fact, Ziauddin Youasfzai, Malala’s father was named the United Nation’s special adviser on global education on Sunday.

“We, as a community, need to be inspired by people like her father — Ziauddin, who against all odds stood up to give education to Malala and continues to do so. Through such effective communication symbols, the mindset can change,” Minallah says adding, that to counter the propaganda and fear instilled by the Taliban, a stronger communication strategy coupled with effective security can turn the education sector around.