Girls Are Human Beings Too!
Humaira, 18, from Pakistan, believes every girl has the right to an education. Yet, in her country, girls face many hurdles when it comes to going to school, such as distance, absent teachers, or child marriage – all of which this young woman has witnessed. Undeterred, Humaira has vowed to make it to medical school once she has passed her exams and, in her spare time, she tutors girls at one of Plan International’s local NFE (Non Formal Education) centers.
“I want to make sure that all girls in Pakistan get an education,” says Humaira. “Education for girls is essential. They become aware and can learn life skills. In hard times, they can earn a livelihood and help support their family.”
While it sounds like a simple concept, this basic rite of passage is fraught with difficulty for girls in Pakistan. “Girls are being treated as commodities, rather than human beings,” says the future doctor, who puts it down to a lack of education on society’s part.
“Our community consists of a single caste and we are bound to each other, so inter-marriages are rife. Girls up to the age of 14 used to be able visit houses in their community without any issue, but it seems that girls as young as 8 are no longer safe and they are only allowed to go out if a parent is present,” says Humaira.
Due to these ongoing issues, young girls are increasingly getting married at a young age and, in the process, abandoning their education.
“Once a girl gets married, it is difficult for her to continue her education, as she is expected to bear children and take on the household responsibilities,” says Humaira. “My good friend loved going to school, but when she was 15, she received a marriage proposal. Her parents were poor and had no other choice but to agree to the proposal. My friend has not returned to school and due to her lack of education she is unable to feed her children properly.”
For others though, including Humaira, there are other barriers to overcome. Government schools are far away and the journey is often unsafe, with many girls facing harassment on a daily basis. A lack of interest shown by teachers at government schools can also have a detrimental effect.
“I started my education in a government school and I found the teachers were largely on leave. The teacher who was there did not want to help me and the other students. This had a huge impact on my education as I was unable to pass my pre-entry test for medical school.”
Poverty is also an issue that is preventing Humaira from achieving her dreams at the moment. “My parents can’t afford the admission to universities, and they’re very far from our house,” she explains. Add on food and living expenses and Humaira is fighting a difficult battle.
“My older brother is in medical school and my parents cannot support two people at the same time. Up until this point my sister [who is a banker] has helped me to pay for my education,” says Humaira.
Humaira’s sister is a source of inspiration and she paved the way for the rest of her siblings. Her family was reluctant to send her to school at first, but when she reached the top of her class, Humaira’s dad saw the power of education. Now, he encourages all of his children to go to school. “In our community, we have to get permission from both our parents to continue our education, but the resistance usually comes from the fathers – they’re more important,” Humaira explains.
For Humaira and her family, it is important for them to help provide educational support for girls in the community who face such difficulties. The young woman is also able share her passion for education by tutoring other girls in the evening. This volunteer work helps her to expand her skill set while she waits for her brother to finish medical school, so he can then help with her university expenses. “Not only do I want to continue my education, but I want to see other girls educated too,” she says. “[When girls are educated], they can take care of themselves and contribute to their families, society, and nation as well.”
The NFE center, hosted by Humaira’s family and run by Plan, is already having a major impact on the community. One of the girls who attends the center dropped out of school not so long ago, but since joining she has improved her skills and can now speak English. And she’s not the only who is benefitting from it. “There are now more than 11,000 girls getting an education at Plan’s NFE projects and, as it’s free, there are no affordability issues,” says Humaira.
From March 10-21, 2014, Humaira will be attending the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York as part of Plan International’s youth delegation, where she is set to address the world on the importance of girls’ rights.