Female students from Bakote anxiously await the construction of an all-girls middle school
ana, 14, sits in a classroom of the Government Middle School in Hotrol village. The Class VIII student hopes that somehow she would be allowed to continue her education and become a doctor or an educator.
Sana Sajjad hails from Hotreri village of Birote Khurd in Abbottabad district. She wants to continue her education beyond middle school but she cannot do so because of the absence of an all-girls high school in the area.
Ironically, Sana considers herself fortunate as she was able to continue her education after the primary level. Most of the other girls from her village had to give up their studies after primary school because there was no separate school for girls in the area. This co-ed middle school was too far for some and the parents of others were reluctant to allow them to sit with boys.
Many of the remote villages around the mountains of Galiyat and Bakote are inaccessible to girls in particular. The middle school located in Hotrol is almost four kilometres from Sana’s village. It takes up to 90 minutes by foot to reach that middle school as the path is unpaved. Most parents in the village do not send their daughters that far due to cultural considerations and financial hurdles.
Last month, working on an assignment in Abbottabad, I had the opportunity to explore the situation of girls’ education in the rural parts of the district. From Birote, a village bordering on the Punjab, to Boi-Dalola on Mansehra side, there are more than 100 villages in Bakote circle, which has a population of more than 400,000. Most of the girl students are deprived of the fundamental right to education. Thousands of them quit every year due to the nonexistence of secondary and higher secondary schools. There are only two higher secondary schools for girls for the entire population, each having 200 to 250 students at the intermediate level.
Uzma*, who completed Class VIII from a middle school last year, is finished with her education although she had been a high achiever in her class who engaged in fruitful discussions and confidently asked questions. Rising at dawn, she starts her day feeding the cattle and preparing breakfast for her family. She spends 5-6 hours of her day collecting fodder for the cattle tied in her yard.
Parents of the girls say that like their sons, they want their daughters to receive proper education so that they do not have to go through what women in their generation did. Their dream remains unfulfilled because there is no middle school for girls in the area.
Asked why she is no longer at a school, she says that the nearest girls’ high school in the area is located about 12 kilometres away from her village. “Due to the mountainous terrain, the long distance and cultural issues, we are unable to attend school. Hence, we are obliged to take care of livestock”, says Uzma.
Parents of the girls says that like their sons, they want their daughters to receive proper education so that they do not have to go through what women in their generation did. But their dreams remain unfulfilled because there is no middle school for girls in the area. Most local girls therefore are forced to abandon education after finishing the primary school.
Waqas Qudoos Abbasi is a human rights activist from the area working on the issue of girls’ education. He says, “Uzma is not the only girl who had to abandon learning. A majority of female students in the area give up education every year because they feel uncomfortable studying in co-ed schools stay back after the fifth grade.”
Abbasi is trying to get a government higher secondary school for girls constructed in Mohra, below the resplendent Mushkpuri peak. Even though the project digest has been approved, a feasibility report prepared and a building plan and a detailed cost estimate produced by Communication and Works Department and residents of the area have donated the land for the school, the building has yet to be constructed.
Another activist from the area, Dr Banzeer Ahsan Abbasi, states that the persons who had donated the land are not landlords. They just wanted the girls of these villages not to go to far-off places to get an education. However, construction has been delayed. “Article 25-A of the constitution puts it in no uncertain terms: The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law,” she says.
Brig Muhammad Musadiq Abbasi, an advisor to former prime minister Imran Khan, who hails from the area, says that no nation can progress without education. That is why, he says, the PTI government is focusing on education, particularly girls’ education.
He says the girls have a passion for education but regrets the lack of facilities for them to continue their studies. “The situation of girls’ education in my area is abysmal. Most villages do not have even a middle school. As a result, the female educational achievements are low.” While there are primary as well as middle schools for boys in his village, Birote Khurd, having a population of around 20,000, there is no all-girls school. As a result, he says, “the girls of the village are deprived of education.”
Brig Abbasi says he will raise the issue with the provincial government.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
The writer is a student of history and a journalist interested in writing on gender equality, social issues and cultural heritage. He tweets @BilalBaseer