[Image from IRIN]
A friend passed along a story to me yesterday, which reported that militants in Swat had ordered a ban on girls’ education from January 15. Sikander Ali, a father of four girls, told the IRIN news agency, “They [Taliban] are savages and we’re like a helpless herd, with no one to protect us.” Ali, a government official, said he heard the recent warning by Shah Dauran, deputy leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Maulana Fazalullah “on a clandestine FM radio station.” He told the news agency,
He said we must take our daughters out of all schools – private or public – by 15 January 2009 at the latest. Failing this, he said the schools will be bombed and violators would face death. He also said they will throw acid into the faces of our daughters if we don’t comply, like their counterparts did in Afghanistan some months back.
According to Dawn, if such a move was to go through in Swat, 40,000 girls would be out of school. However, since the report was released the overarching TTP leadership reportedly tried to distance themselves, claiming they were “not opposed to female education, so long as the girls are properly veiled.” They allegedly “promised to probe the issue and get the Taliban in Swat to rescind their decision about which they are now being equivocal.”
This recent Dawn editorial echoes my sentiments exactly:
[The bombing of girls’ schools] certainly has profound implications in terms of the political and social message it sends. In a society where women are an underclass by virtue of their gender and are denied equal advantages of education – only 36 percent of women over 15 years of age are literate compared to 63 percent men – bombing of girls’ schools comes as a warning to parents to desist from changing this pattern. In a wider sense it also means that no change in the status of women will be brooked. Since the education of girls poses a threat to the ideological beliefs of the Taliban they want to resist it. This should also come as a wake-up call to the policymakers in Pakistan. The emergence of the Taliban reflects, amongst others, our failure to make education accessible to all and inculcate tolerance, compassion and humanism in the population.
Even if this school ban gets overturned, the fact that it was even a possibility is problematic. Moreover, the reality is that the bombing of girls’ schools in Pakistan’s northwest has continued unhindered for over a year, despite “warnings” from the Pakistani authorities. According to Dawn, “In the last 14 months they have destroyed over 100 schools in Swat.” Who protects these families? Who protects these little girls – not just their right to an education, but their right to safety?