My grandmother was an avid reader and loved writing as well. She taught me to read Urdu and encouraged me to adopt reading and writing as a pastime. She asked my father to bring home children’s storybooks in English and Urdu and had an hour-long reading session with me every day. Our reading sessions progressed towards writing short stories and I would be the first one to participate whenever a story writing or reading competition was organized in school. My grandmother was a simple woman born in Firozpur before Partition. Her eyes had seen a lot and her life was full of ups and downs. But she made sure that all her children were educated and did well for themselves when they grew up. She applied the same concerns to her grandchildren and I feel it’s because of her that I am what I am today.There are thousands of women in Pakistan who are not as fortunate as I was because they never had a leading lady in their life who could impart the importance of education to them. It is sad to say that even in 2019, education is still considered to be a privilege in our country where a major chunk of the population cannot read or write. The literacy rate in Pakistan has declined from 60 percent to 58 percent as per the latest economic survey. The 2 percent decrease doesn’t leave the country on a positive front as it means that 42 percent people are still illiterate. Pakistan’s female literacy rate is even more alarming as it stands at 48 percent only, compared to the male literacy rate of 70 percent. Since, illiteracy is a menace on its own, gender-specific literacy should be highlighted and brought to the attention of policy-makers and regulators.In rural areas when a father has to decide about educating his children, he always encourages his sons to go to school and the daughters have to compromise due to lack of resources. Even if they do go to school, young women in disadvantaged families have to quit early in order to support their families. They opt for odd jobs such as house help, factory workers, and kitchen or cleaning staff. This drastically reduces their chance of a well-paid job and increases the chance that their own children will drop out of school for the same reason. The literacy rate in Pakistan has declined from 60 percent to 58 percent as per the latest economic survey. The 2 percent decrease doesn’t leave the country on a positive front as it means that 42 percent people are still illiterate. Pakistan’s female literacy rate is even more alarming as it stands at 48 percent only, compared to the male literacy rate of 70 percent. Since, illiteracy is a menace on its own, gender-specific literacy should be highlighted and brought to the attention of policy-makers and regulatorsIn Pakistan, I believe, it’s a matter of perception. It’s important to understand that a mother lays the foundation of a civilized, healthy, and educated family. A literate mother can do much more in this regard. How a child turns out as an adult depends to a large degree on the mother’s training since infancy. An educated mother can stand up for her daughter’s right to education and that daughter can grow up to be a literate citizen and contribute equally towards a growing economy. Unfortunately, women in Pakistan are still not recognized as valuable players in the economy and hence their educational and career growth are often compromised upon.It’s important to address this issue from the grass-root level and change the perception of the general public. In such circumstances, the book reading culture, arts and literary festivals, and accessibility and affordability of books play a major role in defining the way a community is tuned. Publishing houses serve a crucial function of paving the way for provision of quality learning and reading materials. Publishers in Pakistan, such as Oxford University Press, have been working to inculcate the importance of education among parents, irrespective of gender. I still remember the Oxford logo on my textbooks in school. It would be a step towards a progressive community if more and more children could access such quality books. Availability of books and a favourable environment for reading will result in better educational outcomes. Launching full-fledged campaigns to curb illiteracy is pertinent in Pakistan’s context. In order to promote literacy, the concerned authorities should aim towards reducing the number of school drop-outs by educating and encouraging young mothers to be more involved with their child’s education. As a part of the vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’, it’s essential that we allow our young females to write their own future, as a child born to a literate mother is more likely to read and write too.Published in Daily Times, February 12th 2019.