By Gordon Brown
March 30, 2014
On Saturday, March 29, I met hundreds of new Malalas. Hundreds of new, brave girls ready to stand up and fight for the right to education of four million Pakistani girls who are out of school.
With Malala now attending school in Britain after the attack on her life over two years ago, a new post-Malala generation of girl leaders within Pakistan are now waging what is the civil rights fight of our generation. They are campaigning to end the discrimination that forces girls as young as eight into domestic labour or child marriage and prevents them from going to school.
The girls, many of whom have managed against the odds to get to university or college in Islamabad, made a direct plea in the presence of the Pakistani prime minister. They asked that Pakistan immediately double its education budget and set a deadline of December next year for the availability of universal education across all provinces.
Alongside me was Humaria Bachel, an education campaigner, who has set up her own school in her hometown of Muwach Goth, a marginalised community on the outskirts of Karachi, and who is now winning prizes and plaudits globally for the quality of education on offer. Humaira is striving to change the attitude of people who are against women’s education, despite opposition and threats from many community elders, including her father.
She is the first girl child from her family to be educated and at the age of 12; started classes for underprivileged children in her neighbourhood, which later grew into the Dream Model Street School where 1,200 students are currently enrolled.
I brought messages not just from Malala, but from her two friends who were also shot in that tragic bus massacre two years ago –– Kainat and Shazia –– and who will now be joining our organisation “WORLD AT SCHOOL” in a round-the-world campaign to highlight the struggle being waged by girls in every country.
Messages of support to the Pakistani girls will come from some of the new sister organisations being formed, from The Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom and the Nilphamari Child Marriage Free Zone to Indonesia’s Grobogan Child Empowerment Group. They are all marshalled by the inspirational Girls Not Brides movement and the Global March Against Child Labour.
In my meeting, I told the girls and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we will mobilise international support and finance if Pakistan is prepared to lead an urgent push to meet the December 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline for universal education.
Pakistan has come a long way from a time when most children were not in school. In Punjab, an ambitious plan — a plan they have persuaded my country to finance — has placed one million children in school in just a year. It has been done so by ensuring proper registration of children and teachers, keeping proper attendance records and focusing on a disciplined curriculum taught by trained and motivated teachers. Now the whole of Pakistan can benefit from this new initiative, which brings discipline into the classroom and ensures standards are upheld.
Gordon Brown is a former prime minister of Britain and the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education