Neglected Futures: The Pakistan’s Government and Society’s Role in Hindering Girls’ Education

  • A staggering 13 million girls are out of school in Pakistan which is equivalent to the entire population of some countries. 
  • Pakistan faces significant challenges in providing quality education to all children, with 75 per cent of 10-year-olds struggling to read a simple text.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread educational disruptions, with approximately 20 million girls in low and lower-middle-income countries never returning to school due to the pandemic.
  • Pakistan’s government must be gender-responsive and address the realities of girls and disadvantaged communities to mitigate learning losses and prevent worsening educational disparities.

Pakistan serves as a prime illustration of a nation that has been facing challenges in attaining gender equality in education. The staggering number of 13 million girls out of school is equivalent to the entire population of some countries. Historically, girls in South Asia have faced cultural taboos and barriers that discouraged them from seeking education. Fortunately, there has been a shift in mindset in recent times, leading to more support for girls’ education. However, challenges persist, especially for girls in rural areas who often face poverty and limited access to education. These obstacles are not limited to rural areas, as even metropolitan cities like Lahore struggle with ensuring girls have equal access to education.

Around 150,000 girls in the Lahore district are currently not attending school, with the primary obstacle being the lack of quality education available to them. Numerous challenges have hindered the access of girls to education in the region. These include the lack of clean and hygienic facilities, insufficient transportation options, poverty, misguided religious perceptions, gender discrimination, early marriages, inadequate educational infrastructure, unsecure environments, and physical disabilities.

In the year 2018, there was a disparity in education between girls and boys, with 26 per cent of girls and 19 per cent of boys never having attended school. This difference amounted to a 7-percentage point gap. Despite the efforts of the government, the situation remains unchanged for girls in Pakistan. In 2018, the number of girls who had never been to school was equivalent to the number of boys in the same situation back in 2004, a period spanning 14 years.

Girls in Pakistan encounter more obstacles in accessing quality education compared to boys, leading to lower educational outcomes for them. To address this issue, targeted interventions based on data are necessary. At the current rate of progress, it will take Pakistan around 50 years to enrol all girls and 31 years to enrol all boys in school. Surveys quote several reasons for this disparity.

Inadequate sanitation facilities – The lack of proper hygiene facilities, along with the absence of boundary walls and restrooms, pose significant obstacles to girls’ education.

Limited transportation options – In rural parts of Pakistan, schools are situated far away and there is a lack of transportation infrastructure to ensure girls can access education. This results in parents feeling concerned about their daughters’ safety while travelling to school.

Safety concerns – Harassment and assault rates are on the rise in rural areas, making it crucial for authorities to enhance existing laws and enforce anti-harassment legislation such as Law 509. Girls encounter harassment both at school and during their commute to school. They are confronted with security issues in public areas while using transportation and in the vicinity of educational institutions. The Center for Gender and Policy Studies has documented girls expressing distress over various forms of harassment in these settings. Consequently, parents in Pakistan often opt to either postpone their daughters’ education or prohibit them from pursuing schooling altogether. The second most common rationale provided by parents for keeping girls out of school is the distance to educational facilities, which only serves to heighten their security apprehensions: the farther the school, the greater the risk for girls. 

Educational limitations – Many schools only offer primary education, restricting girls’ access to secondary education due to the distance they would have to travel. 

Economic challenges – Government initiatives providing stipends to schoolgirls have been beneficial, but further measures such as entrepreneurship training and vocational skills development could help alleviate poverty and empower girls to pursue education. Girls’ education faces a significant hurdle in the form of poverty. In comparison to boys, girls from impoverished households are 22 percentage points less likely to receive an education. However, as families become more financially stable, this gender disparity gradually diminishes. In fact, in the wealthiest quintile, where enrollment rates reach approximately 87 per cent for both genders, the gap completely disappears.

Impact of Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruptions to education globally. UNESCO estimates that over 1.5 billion learners in more than 190 countries experienced interruptions since April 2020. Vulnerable groups, including adolescent girls, disadvantaged children, and those with disabilities, were significantly impacted, facing long-term consequences on their education, economic prospects, and well-being. Research suggests that approximately 20 million girls in low and lower-middle-income countries never returned to school due to the pandemic, highlighting severe and lasting repercussions.

Before the pandemic, significant efforts were made to ensure girls’ access to quality education, with national governments, including Pakistan’s, showing commitment to improving educational outcomes for vulnerable communities. However, the pandemic severely impacted these efforts. Pakistan was one of the first countries to implement widespread school closures, starting in Sindh province in February 2020, followed by the rest of the country in mid-March 2020. Since then, the country has experienced intermittent school openings and closures due to multiple waves of COVID-19.

Currently, 75 per cent of 10-year-olds in Pakistan struggle to read a simple text, a number that may have increased to 79 per cent due to the pandemic and the 2022 floods. Even before COVID-19, achieving gender equality in education globally was challenging. UNESCO highlighted that in some countries, including Pakistan, the poorest girls only attended school for an average of less than two years. The ITA report emphasized the urgent need for intensified efforts towards girls’ education to mitigate the significant impact on girls.


The Pakistani government claims it is committed to ensuring both girls and boys have access to quality education, which is crucial for the country’s economic development. Over the past 14 years, enrollment rates for both genders have increased by approximately 10 percentage points. Despite these improvements, Pakistan continues to face challenges in providing quality education to all children. 

It is essential to equip parents, teachers, and the entire school system to meet the needs of all learners, particularly the most vulnerable girls. With intermittent school closures, ensuring access to quality distance learning for all vulnerable communities, including girls, is imperative. Schools must also be supported to prevent and manage the spread of diseases. Government education and crisis response plans must be gender-responsive and address the realities of girls and disadvantaged communities. Targeted instruction and structured pedagogy reforms can help mitigate learning losses and potentially surpass pre-COVID learning levels. Neglecting girls’ education in the global pandemic response risks worsening existing disparities, leading to significant long-term economic and social repercussions for girls and the broader economy of Pakistan.


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