Girls’ education has been a thorny issue throughout the history of this region. Unlike boys, girls have been considered unworthy of education. It has been a boys’ forte to be at the top, when it comes to acquiring knowledge, wealth or status. With time, as many other things changed, so did the attitude towards girls’ education but the impact of this change had never been sufficient and wide enough to alter the general plight of a woman. Denial of education has been an engineered attempt to keep women dependent, which could mean anything from being treated like dirt to being used like a doormat. Pick up any statistics and find women the worst victims of suppression, persecution and domination, whether at the hands of her own family, the state or non-state actors. In Pakistan, the school dropout rate for girls is 57.2 percent, while 70 percent girls are mired in domestic chores (We are talking about girls below 14 years of age).
And now we have another element, the Taliban and its affiliates, bent upon crippling this nation from all sides. What could be worse for girls than to cut them off from education? Though the Taliban’s wrath against education has been across the board since they bombed schools for boys or girls equally, their rage against girls education came full circle when they shot Malala in the head while she was on her way to school in Swat. It has been the worst form of brutality from a group wanting to establish what is called a strict Islamic system in Pakistan. Could the true followers of Islam exclude girls from acquiring education? Nothing could be further from the truth than this farce.
The people of Panjgur faced a similar situation when a spurious Islamic group called Tanzeem-ul-Islam-al-Furqan forced private schools to shut down. The real target was girls, since the group considered ‘western’ education imparted in the private schools haram (prohibited in Islam). In April this year, this unknown group distributed flyers against western education followed by attacks on three schools while setting a school van on fire. The group manhandled teachers and other staff members. This intimidation forced 35 private and 30 English language centres to close down until the government provided them protection.
The government in Balochistan has been successful in reassuring school managements and parents of support and protection, allowing the schools to reopen by June 23. The job does not end here though. Unless the government unearths and eliminates every element that wants women deprived of education, Pakistan’s trajectory to development would remain unachievable. This success is contingent on changing the mindset which is against women’s education and progress. *