While gender equality in Pakistan got a significant public relations boost with the announcement that the country's government will put $10 million towards the education of girls, given how dire the situation is today (note the targeting of 14-year-old education advocate Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban for assassination a mere two months ago) this financial contribution will be meaningless if it isn't backed up by serious policy changes that allow girls to attend class free of fear.
After a visit to Malala's hospital in England, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari was alongside UNESCO in Paris to announce a new "Malala Fund for Girls' Right to Education," and to fund it with $10 million by the year 2015. No matter the reason -- to score political points with the West, generate good public relations or because it's simply the right thing to do -- Zardari's commitment is a good step, but that's all it is.
UNESCO's work on girls' education is as outstanding as it is well-documented, and that is a hopeful sign.
However, despite a clause in Pakistan's constitution that states education is a "fundamental right of every citizen," the reality on the ground exposes just how hollow that clause is, particularly when it comes to girls.
• Nearly three-fourths of Pakistani girls are not in primary school, and that number is going in the wrong direction.
• When it comes to kids between six and 16, the number of children not in school rises to nearly 80 percent, and of the 20 percent that do attend, fewer than four in 10 are girls.
• Perhaps most disturbingly and importantly, there have been more than 1,500 schools bombed by the Taliban since 2008 -- many of them in protest of the education of girls -- putting up a huge roadblock in front of students who want to go to school.
As anthropologist Samar Minallah -- who has worked on women's rights -- recently told the Christian Science Monitor, "A majority of the population in Pakistan wants to send their children to schools, but what is the state doing to enable a safer environment? Not much."
And that's exactly the point: Solving the gender equality problem in education will take far more than dollars being funneled directly toward getting girls into the classroom. It will take a cracking down on militants who believe that girls should not be in the classroom at all.
That's a heavy lift for a country that has for years been rumored to be closely affiliated with the Taliban, even while serving as an ally to the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan.
And if you think the Taliban is just some small, renegade force in Pakistan with no influence over the public and its beliefs, consider that more than 300 Pakistanis recently showed up at a school named in Malala's honor to protest it.
So is Zardari's financial pledge a real jumpstart for gender equality in schools, or is it the callous use of an injured young advocate to score cheap political points with the international community?
Perhaps it is then appropriate that 2015 isn't only the deadline for the $10 million, but it's also the year that Pakistan has pledged to meet the goal of eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education.
Don't be surprised if the government delivers the dollars, but doesn't end the disparities.