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Girls excel in education despite Taliban threats
Females’ school performance is a slap in the Taliban’s face, KP education minister says
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR – Female students performed well on Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations this year, indicating that the Taliban’s fight against education is falling on deaf ears, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak said.
“It is a victory for all the people who are opposing militants as the Taliban’s calls against women’s education have gone unheeded and parents are more interested to educate their daughters than ever,” Babak said. “Given the threats by insurgents in FATA and conflict zone in KP, the performance by female students is praiseworthy.”
Under the reign of the Taliban (2007-2009), females in Swat were basically confined to home as the militants strictly enforced their opposition to the education of girls.
“Now, we salute the Pakistani army and other law-enforcement outfits who have evicted the Taliban, and female education is back on the track,” said Shaheen Begum, who ranked fourth on the test in Swat this June.
Doing well academically paves the way for women to find meaningful careers, female students said.
“Education is the only means for women to play their part in country’s development,” said Samra Ghazal, who topped the Peshawar BISE exam by scoring 978 out of 1,050.
High female scores in tribal areas, KP
Female students clinched the top 15 positions in the SSC annual examination conducted by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE), Peshawar. Seven other KP education boards reported similar results. In Bannu, adjacent to militancy-riddled South Waziristan Agency, girls took the top three positions.
In Malakand, where militants destroyed more than 300 schools between 2007-2009, girls captured 10 of the top 20 positions.
And in Abbottabad – where late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hid for years – female students won the three top positions in humanities exams.
“It is the glaring example of how the Taliban cannot prevent girls from getting education,” Peshawar BISE Chairman Professor Muhammad Shafi Afridi told Central Asia Online. “The girls are now pursuing their education as a challenge (to militants).”
Female students from South and North Waziristan also fared well.
“Education of women is the only ray of (hope for) women to remove the dark clouds of ignorance, especially in FATA,” Abdul Ghaffar, a senior teacher at the Charming High School in Bajaur Agency, told Central Asia Online. “Women are equal to me; therefore, they should have equal opportunities.”
“In the present situation, it's a big achievement that girls’ education is progressing so well despite threats by the Taliban," said Zahira Khattak, a leader of the Awami National Party. She said that women’s education means progress for the nation, and she called the “encouraging results in the SSC examination” a sign of things to come.
This year’s results would lure more girls toward education, she said.
"We need female education to defeat militancy. Education is the best tool to defeat the enemies," she said.
A brighter future
Today’s success of female students could mean big changes in the future.
Healthcare for women in the tribal regions, for example, is woefully inadequate. Cultural norms in those areas dictate that women have to see female doctors, and the region has few.
Begum and second-place finisher Hira Motasim, who scored 972, hope to change that by becoming doctors in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), respectively.
“The Taliban’s influence, coupled with social taboos, made women reluctant to venture out in public and to be examined by male doctors,” Begum said. “Swat requires more female doctors to cope with the (number) of woman patients.”
A rising group of educated girls can also have effects in other fields.
Parveen Shah, who secured second position in the humanities group, wants to become a police officer. “It’s my dream to work as policewoman and take to task all those who have destroyed schools in my native town of Mohmand,” she told Central Asia Online.
“In the future, I want to become a qualified educationist and spread the ray of education in the entire FATA,” said Ulfat Bibi, a South Waziristan resident who scored 871 points to take fifth place.
Girls excel despite destruction of schools
The girls’ successes come amid an ongoing campaign by the Taliban to destroy schools. Such attacks have backfired, though, actually raising educational awareness among girls, Ghaffar explained.
In Mardan, where the Taliban have so far damaged 21 schools in 2012, Sana Qayum clinched top position with 969 points.
“Female education is more important these days because Taliban insurgents want to put an end to women’s education,” she told Central Asia Online. “More women should come to education to foil the attempts by miscreants to bar them.”
“It is encouraging that women are standing up to Taliban threats,” Mardan BISE Controller of Examinations Prof. Shams-ul-Munir told Central Asia Online. “Given the trend, I hope that women would get all top positions in next year’s examination.”
Female students have proved their mettle in the exam, which bodes well for Pakistan, he said.
“We have been providing more facilities to female schools in order to encourage them to get higher education and serve their country,” he said. Only by giving a quality education to women can the terrorism-stricken province alter its destiny, he explained.