In October of 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a fifteen-year-old at the time, was shot by a member of the Taliban. She had been on the bus ride home from school and was targeted by the Taliban for “speaking out publicly on behalf of girls and [their] right to learn.” After this incident, Malala has recovered, received a Nobel Peace Prize, and moved on to be an influential advocate in support of educational equality for women in Pakistan.
As for education equality in Pakistan, there is a major lack thereof. Currently, there are about thirteen million young Pakistani women not in school, which, to put into perspective, is more than if the entire populations of both Ireland and Hungary were not attending school. In relation to males of the same age, the population of Pakistani high school students is 87% male, creating a large disparity in educational equality in this nation. There are a multitude of reasons as to why women are disproportionately affected, such as widespread poverty, harassment that girls may experience when traveling long distances to school, and societal norms like women getting married before the age of eighteen.
Due to lack of investments, high costs, and no enforcement, education for women in Pakistan is far from the standard of education in other countries. To move towards equality and accomplish the U.N.’s goal for education equality for all by 2030, the U.S. government should pass the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act. This act will guarantee that 50% of the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Pakistani scholarship recipients will be women from 2020 until 2024. Even though many members of Congress have criticized this act since USAID already allocates many scholarships to Pakistani women, enacting this act into law is a major step forward in ensuring education equality for Pakistani women by defining expectations in our legal system.
History Of This Act
This act has had quite a history since its introduction to Congress. The act was originally introduced by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Ann Wager to the House of Representatives in September of 2019. By December of the same year, it was passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the support of thirty-one House representatives. Since then, it has been read by the Senate twice, and currently sits on the calendar of the Committee of Foreign Relations for review in the future.
A number of steps still must be taken in order for the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act to become law. If the Committee of Foreign Relations makes further amendments, the Senate must vote again on the bill and reconvene with the House of Representatives to vote the bill through. From here, the bill will then go to the President who must approve of the legislation and sign it into law. It is unclear as to how long this process will take, but the bill is only roughly halfway through the legislative process.
Why Passing This Act Is Necessary
As written in the current version of the bill, the purpose of this act is “to expand the number of scholarships available to Pakistani women under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program.” By guaranteeing that 50% of the USAID’s scholarships given to Pakistani people are given specifically to women, the United States can assist in combating gender inequality seen in the education systems of Pakistan. Through scholarships, Pakistani women will have more opportunities to complete their twelve years of compulsory education and move on to complete bachelor’s and master’s programs.
Additionally, a goal of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to achieve global gender equality through the empowerment of women. A step in achieving this goal is to close the achievement gap between men and women in Pakistan education systems. By passing this act and lowering the amount of young Pakistani women not in school, we will move closer to this goal. There is a severe lack of opportunities for women in this nation, and scholarships are a way to allocate funds to this underrepresented community by allowing them to fight conditions such as poverty and societal danger that pose a threat to their educational potential.
In terms of long term results that show the value of passing this act, investing in the education of Pakistani women will allow these women to combat poverty and move towards a better economic climate in Pakistan. These women will be able to combat the conditions that they faced when getting an education, thus providing further opportunities for future generations. With the United States facilitating this growth, a relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan can exist and be beneficial as Pakistan becomes more economically stable. The short term and long term outcomes of this act make it imperative that it becomes law.
The Case Against This Act
Fortunately, there are not too many factors or opinions in direct opposition to the passing of this act. The one notable disagreement has been that this act only legalizes a practice that has already been occurring. When examining past years of the scholarships issued by the USAID to Pakistani students, more than 50% of these scholarships have already been given to women. The argument against passing this act then lies with the opinion that it would bureaucratize a practice that is already being done.
However, this act would mandate that reports by the USAID administration are given yearly to analyze the impact of this practice. By doing this, the United States will be able to see the impact of this practice and guarantee that the scholarships are effectively combating inequality in education. These reports will show what paths of studies these students tend to pursue, as well as the highest level of education they are able to receive with the support of the funding. In conclusion, this act solidifies a practice while taking the necessary steps to guarantee the practice is effective.
The passing of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is integral in beating gender inequality seen in the education systems of Pakistan. In order to facilitate a strong relationship with Pakistan that will benefit both nations in the future, the United States should enact this act into law. However, in order for this act to progress through the Senate and further legislation, it is up to the personal advocacy of United States citizens. Contacting state representatives and senators and asking them to support this act will make it become an objective to discuss in the Senate. The longer the bill remains awaiting discussion, the longer gender inequality in education exists. The passing of this act is a significant step in the right direction, and one the U.S. should consider taking.