The Constitution of Pakistan safeguards the right of education for all. Sadly, this has failed to bring to an end existing gender disparities. The Annual Status of Education Report 2016 provides for an interesting reading. It finds the following: 48 percent of the poorest girls in the 5-16 age bracket are enrolled in school as compared to 68 percent of the poorest boys from the same age group; 68 percent of girls from the 15-23 age bracket can read and write as compared to 83 percent of boys; girls comprise just 43 percent of enrolled secondary school students, with one in 10 completing education at this level. Patriarchal values strongly govern the social structure in rural Pakistan. By comparison, the country’s urban centres as well as semi-peripheral regions are slowly moving towards more inclusive gender roles. Some 70 percent of women in Pakistan work outdoors, according to a 2016 Asian Development Bank policy brief on women’s workforce participation. Thus the general perception of cultural gender roles traditionally dictating that women are to remain in the private sphere while men leave the home to earn a living don’t necessarily hold true in those sectors where both men and women work in the fields and are expected to contribute equally to household chores. A survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau Statistics during the 2013-2014 period found that women comprise 26 percent (15 million) of the total labour force. Thus long held concepts that see the rigid separation of the sexes are verily challenged across different parts of the country. Only in the most rurally isolated areas do these notions of strict gender roles apply. Poverty is one of the major driving forces behind unequal household resource allocation favouring sons. This is because of the latter’s accepted role outside of the home. Resultantly, boys’ education is from the outset prioritised over that of the girl child, given how strong the perception that the former must be equipped with the necessary skills to compete for resources in the public sphere; while girls need to specialise in domestic skills with being good wives and mothers remaining the end objectives. Literacy and primary education are no longer simply a matter of social justice – they are intrinsically linked to economic growth, social well-being and stability. This places girls’ education at the core of all human development endeavours The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 covers all of Pakistan’s children from 5-16 years. Regrettably, though, it doesn’t extend to the final two years of schooling, which are essential to the girl child in terms of personal thriving and trying to build a better future for their families, communities and country. Pakistan’s education system is also critically under resourced; the government is failing to meet financial commitments promised under the aforementioned Act. It has, however, endorsed the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on Education to ensure all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030. These statistics shed light on Pakistan’s education reality. Prevailing gender disparities are much lower in as compared to rural areas. One possible explanation is that tribal, feudal and patriarchal traditions still endure. Moreover, there are very few employment opportunities for women in rural areas. Meaning little financial incentive exist for families when it comes to sending their girls to schools. Yet those who do make it to school consistently outperform boys. They also tend to be higher achievers at the university level. Unfortunately, the majority of girls never get the opportunity to develop their educational capabilities. Education represents critical input in human resource development and is essential for the country’s economic growth. It increases the productivity and efficiency of individuals, while achieving a skilled labour force capable of leading the economy towards sustainable growth and prosperity. The progress and wellbeing of a country largely depends on the education choices available to the citizenry. In short, education can be one of the most powerful instruments of change, helping a nation achieve its goals by way of nurturing minds and feeding these with knowledge, skills, and competency to shape future destiny. Thus has come newfound and important awareness: focusing on literacy and primary education is no longer simply a matter of social justice – since they are intrinsically linked to economic growth, social well-being and stability. This places girls’ education at the core of all human development endeavours. And not just within a formal framework. It must also include focus on the health and status of women to early childhood care; from nutrition, water and sanitation to community empowerment; from the reduction of child labour as well as other forms of exploitation to peaceful conflict resolution. Statistics point to extensive gender inequality here in Pakistan. Girls and women must overcome a great number of socio-cultural barriers in order to access their fundamental right to education. The international community has developed consensus through the UN Millennial Development Goals to remove gender inequality from the education sphere. For as previously mentioned, this is no longer about social justice alone – it is now a matter critical to the long-term development of society. Indeed, empirical studies have confirmed that gender inequality in education significantly impacts rural poverty in Pakistan, while female literacy is crucial to alleviate this. This is why well renowned feminists like Martha Craven Nussbaum have relentlessly argued for the need to increase public expenditure spending on female education on a priority basis. It is the only way to achieve gender equality across the board. The writer is a freelance journalist and associated with the development sector. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org&twitter: @mqesar Published in Daily Times, September 17th 2017.