In many parts of Pakistan these days, girls are afforded equal education opportunities at Pakistani Schools, as least in theory if not in practice. The situation is gravely different in areas like Swat Valley though, where puberty heralds the end of education, not the hope of a better-educated life. This is because the Taliban militants living there wish to enforce what they believe to be the truth.
On January 17th 2011 the Pakistani Government estimated that as many as 40,000 girls above the age of 9 are being forcefully deprived of the education many parents long for them to have. Some are being burned with acid, shot, or even blown up on their way to Pakistani Schools.
Senior UNICEF Emergency Adviser Dr. Angela Raven-Roberts explained in Geneva recently that the Taliban rejected schoolgirls' education because they saw it as the thin wedge of woman’s liberation. As part of the same drive, females are being barred from public health care, too, being condemned to a life sometimes little better than that of slaves. Since having even minimally educated mothers has been shown to be enormously beneficial for their children, the long term prognosis for Swat Valley is dire.
The insurgents have recently upped the ante. In the past month alone 5 schools were bombed, 170 destroyed and 13 girls beheaded. Despite an apparent shift in policy in Afghanistan, the Pakistani militants continue to reiterate that the school system inherited from the British is un-islamic, obscene and vulgar. While families flee to cities corrupt police frequently desert, or simply refuse to take sides.
As you drop your little ones off at school on Mondays, spare a thought for Swat Valley parents who risk their lives to educate their daughters at home in secret. Weep too, for families for whom the Taliban insurgents are their their only defense against robbery, murder, rape and worse, and who are obliged to accept the curtailment of Pakistani Girls' Education where they live, just to survive. Things could be a great deal worse where we are, could they not?