A SCHOOL for girls has once again been blown up by militants in Darra Adamkhel which, along with other places in the tribal belt and the NWFP, has witnessed similar attacks over the past couple of years. Threats are routine, and have resulted in schools being closed, parents not sending their daughters or students conforming to militant demands by donning burqas. This is a worrisome trend and one shudders to think of the consequences of such violence as it spreads to other parts of the country. Already the adult female literacy rate in Pakistan is a mere 35 per cent, about half the male literacy rate. Girls’ enrolment in primary and secondary school is also far less than it is for boys, while the primary dropout rate among them is higher. This implies an inferior social status for them. With this level of general apathy towards girls’ education, it is not surprising that when militants threaten to blow up their schools or actually do so, there is very little protest and the state is not concerned about providing security. Admittedly, the NWFP and its environs are among the most conservative parts of the country. But it is sad that even the more liberal political forces in the area do not realise the importance of education for women, and refrain from moving against those who deliberately put hurdles in their path.
The truth is that while militancy is destroying whatever little progress women and girls may have made over the years, be it in education, politics or in some other field, tribal beliefs and general conservatism have proved almost as much of a setback. Perhaps it is a positive sign that this time the government in the Frontier, which has strong links to the tribal areas, is a secular one unlike its predecessor. One hopes that it will be progressive in other ways too. It has a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that girls and women are not restricted. For this, the provision of a decent education at all costs is a necessary first step.