Pakistan is a country with 32 million girls under the age of 15. Only 7 million of these girls attend primary school and just 500,000 make it to university. Due to this gap, millions of young women are unable to participate in the country’s growth. With USAID’s help, young Pakistani women are reaching for a brighter future — for their families, communities and country.
Color of Hope in Mirpur Mathelo
Priya felt nervous as she clicked on an email that had the potential to change her fate. But her nervousness turned into excitement when she read she had been selected to join the Emerging Leadership Program at the Sui Southern Gas Company.
Only a few years ago, Priya’s life was very different. While her father envisioned that she would break down barriers and succeed as a professional, their circumstances made achieving this seem impossible. To leave home for college or work in the corporate sector was still taboo for women in their community. And her father, a shopkeeper, couldn’t afford to send her to college.
She feared her dreams were too big for a salesman’s income.
“Just when I thought I had to give up on this dream, I saw a [Sukkur Institute of Business Administration] advertisement in the newspaper announcing a Talent Hunt Program,” she said. “I decided to apply.”
Priya recalls running into her father’s arms exuberantly announcing her admission at the top of her lungs. She enrolled in the school’s Bachelor in Business Administration program.
“My parents were overjoyed, but my mother was afraid of sending me away. In our community, girls only dream of attending college,” — Priya.
For Priya, business school was an opportunity to venture far outside her experiences at home. There, she got a glimpse of the world beyond her small community. She gained self-confidence, befriended students from diverse backgrounds and found life-long mentors in her professors.
One of Priya’s mentors encouraged her to apply to the USAID-funded Merit and Needs Based Scholarship Program to ensure she could complete her degree. The program increases access to higher education by helping underprivileged candidates who are unable to finance their education despite having good grades. The scholarship is not restricted to tuition, but also covers room and board, enabling disadvantaged students, both men and women, to go to college.
When Priya opened the email containing her acceptance to the Emerging Leadership Program, she realized all her hard work had led to this moment. The scholarship brought her dream to life and inspired the girls in her hometown of Ghotki.
Today, she works in the payroll department, processing paychecks and monitoring expenses for a large firm in Sindh. She plans to become certified as a chartered financial analyst.
“My studies helped me find my calling in life. I have discovered my passion for finance and numbers.” — Priya
Strong-willed and defiant of gender norms since childhood, Monika would play shopkeeper while many of her friends played with dolls and role-played as teachers. As a little girl she wasn’t aware of terms like “expansion,” “product diversification” and “marketing techniques,” but her goal was always to succeed in business. As she grew older, she told her father she did not want to be a teacher but wished to pursue business education.
As a woman from an underprivileged Hindu family, a minority in Pakistan, Monika was aware of the challenges.
“My father was told by his friends and peers that he was making a mistake by letting me study business. They would continually tell him that I wouldn’t do anything after gaining a [Bachelor in Business Administration],” Monika said. “They suggested that I should discontinue my education after intermediate [12th grade] and tutor students in the area.”
“Fortunately enough, I proved them wrong,” she said.
Monika found an ad for the Talent Hunt Program, a scholarship at the Sukkur Institute of Business Administration covering the first semester. After convincing her parents and brothers to let her pursue the scholarship, she found herself transitioning from her town in the Sindh province, where girls cover themselves in shawls when leaving home, to the hallways of business school, where women are encouraged to participate in class and pursue extracurricular activities like sports, public speaking and drama.
Monika worked enthusiastically to secure a 3.0 GPA and a full scholarship after the first semester. One day her teacher told her about USAID’s Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program.
“It not only allowed me to complete my [Bachelor in Business Administration], my savings from the stipend helped me enroll in an MBA program later and pay for its first semester, which shaped my future,” Monika said. “I worked hard towards a 3.75 GPA in my first semester of postgraduate, which paved my way for yet another scholarship, and right after the second semester, I landed a job at United Bank Limited.”
Now living in Karachi, Monika works at the bank by day and pursues an MBA program at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology by night. At the bank, she works in the operations department and assists the branch manager.
Monika has earned the admiration of the people of her community. Many have now seen the benefits of educating young women — and the doors that can open as a result.
In Pakistan, cultural taboos and financial limitations prevent women and girls from reaching their full potential. With USAID’s help, we are making sure the sky is the limit.
About the Author
This blog was prepared by staff at USAID’s mission in Pakistan.