Girls’ education under threat in NWFP, says UN
DARRA ADAM KHEL: Girls’ education in the NWFP faces a serious threat from militants who want all female students to stay away from educational institutions, according to a report of the UN’s information unit IRIN.The report says that during the last two months, at least two educational institutions in the Darra Adam Khel area have been bombed by religious extremists. They are the Government Girls’ High School in Akharwal and the under-construction Girls’ Degree College in Sheraki.Because of the bombings, which took place in November, the buildings of the two institutions suffered damage and today many girls of the area do not go to these institutions, the report says. Azmat Khan, a 40-year-old trader of the area, says he wants his daughter named Faria to be educated, but now he doesn’t want her to go to school.
“We want Faria to be educated. It is important these days. But we are too scared to send her to school in the present situation,” says Mr Khan. Aged nine, Faria has not been to school for the last two weeks. “It is too dangerous now and my friends and I are scared,” says Faria. According to the report, getting girls into the classroom is now a challenge throughout much of the NWFP province. “There have been notices affixed to the gates of the schools, asking the people to stay away. The situation is very bad,” a spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says. Teachers, school heads, bus drivers and parents of the pupils have all been threatened and warned to stay away. In other cases, religious extremists have made phone calls to schools, ordering girl students to wear burqa.
The targeting of schools for girls is not limited to Darra Adam Khel. In November, an aerial attack carried out allegedly by the Pakistani military in the Bajaur Agency, killed at least 80 people at a religious school. The attack has led to a marked increase in sympathy for religious extremists in the area. Recently, pamphlets circulated in Bajaur have warned parents to keep their girls away from schools and through such flyers school administrations have been ordered to ensure that children are dressed in shalwar kameez rather than ‘western’ clothes including trousers and shirts. The report says there have been various attacks on music or video shops, threats to barbers not to shave men and warnings to female health workers and teachers to leave specific areas across many parts of the NWFP.
“We are too scared to go back to our schools, even though we worry about the students who will suffer because there are no classes to go to,” said Surriya Bibi, 50, who until recently taught at a private school in the Darra Adam Khel area.
But the impact of the latest attacks has been extremely negative, with no official attempt to provide security to women or girls who want to go to school or other educational institutions. This can only augur ill in a part of the world where the literacy rate for women stands at around 10 per cent on average. In many rural areas of the NWFP it is even lower because of a lack of sufficient schools, traditional reluctance to educate girls and orthodox hostilities to allowing schools to operate in these areas.