It is reassuring news to hear that Malala is showing signs of recovery after the senseless shooting in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago. I remember reading Malala's blog on the BBC when we were preparing the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on Education and Armed Conflict. The blog brought home to me the shocking reality of girls' education in places where schooling gets caught in the crossfire of conflict.
In Swat district, where Malala lives, only one in three girls are in school. But Malala's plight highlights a far wider problem in Pakistan. As the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report published last week finds, the country has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world - over five million - and the second highest number of girls out of school.
The barriers to education faced by Pakistani girls like Malala are stark in comparison with the rest of South Asia. The poorest girls in Pakistan are twice as likely to be out of school as the poorest girls in India, almost three times as likely as the poorest girls in Nepal and at least six times as likely as the poorest girls in Bangladesh. Even in the wealthier province of the Punjab, more than half of poorest girls have never been to school, while the vast majority of the richest have had the opportunity. These comparisons show that inequalities are far wider in Pakistan compared with other countries in South Asia, as revealed by the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), a new website from the EFA Global Monitoring Report team that shows how factors such as gender, poverty and location affect a child's education chances.
Conflict in parts of the country is certainly holding back progress in education. But it is not the only reason. The 2012 GMR identifies that Pakistan is one of just a small number of countries that have reduced spending on education, falling from an already low of 2.6% of GNP in 1999 to only 2.3% in 2010. And yet Pakistan spends around seven times more on the military than on primary schooling. The wide inequalities in schooling opportunities suggest that not only is it vital that the country shows greater commitment by increasing its spending on education, but also that urgent action needs to be target policies towards ensuring that girls from the poorest households have the chance to go to school.
Percentage of children who have never been in school, aged 7-16