Newly Merged Districts (NMDs) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, previously known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), are on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These areas were considered as the tribal region and had long suffered from terrorism. With the efforts of the security forces and military operations, the insurgency and militancy in this belt has been wiped out. The region is now moving towards stability, giving relief to its 3 million residents. The merger of KP with ex-FATA has opened a whole new horizon for development and growth, most significantly it has given birth to new reforms for education.
Previously, because of Talibanization and also the patriarchal culture of the region, girls’ education was negatively affected. The government is now taking various steps to improve the education system in the region, like upgrading around 400 primary schools out of which almost 250 have been completed in NMDs with focus on providing the local domicile holders with jobs in these educational institutions. Alongside development, progress and huge investments in its education system, the focus is also being paid to improvement of female literacy in whole of KP.
While the government is doing its part, significant openness and improvement in terms of female education can be witnessed when we look at the many examples of women hailing from some of the remotest and less-privileged areas of KP excelling in different fields. One such inspiring example is Sajna Bibi belonging to Bumboret valley of Chitral who recently secured admission in Khyber Medical College (KMC), Peshawar. While sharing about her journey she said: “I belong to the Kalash minority community of Chitral and becoming the first ever Kalash woman to secure admission in this medical college is such a blessing that I am overwhelmed. There is no female doctor from our community and my area of domicile is so remote that no one ever thought that a small-town girl like me could ever make it to a medical university.”
She further said that she had studied alongside male students at the primary level due to lack of girls’ schools in her area. The situation has now improved, according to her. When asked about her reasons for choosing medicine as a profession she said that the infrastructure and roads in Chitral and specifically in Kalash valley are not well-constructed and so during pregnancies women have to be taken using a rough track to reach a faraway female doctor sitting in the main city. Therefore, she decided become a doctor to serve her community and ease their hardships. Her journey and achievements are an inspiration for other girls and their families in her community.
Another motivational tale is that of Dr Sumbal Suresh, who belongs to Peshawar and has the honour of being the first female Hindu doctor from her community. Telling about the journey towards her goal, she said: “Since I arrived at the age of discretion, all I knew was to become a medical doctor, as it was the unfulfilled dream of my father. Due to his weak financial condition, he was unable to continue his education after intermediate and opted for a menial job at the Governor House. I focused on my studies just to get admission in a medical college one day, so that my father would feel proud of me as I realised his unfulfilled aspirations. And now when someone calls me Doctor in front of my father, the smile and satisfaction on his face is priceless for me.”
“Hardwork never gets wasted and seeing my academic progress record, the Governor at the time funded my education as my father could not afford the expenses of my education,” she added. Dr Sumbal stressed in her conversation that she did not face any discrimination because of her religious beliefs saying, “There is a misconception that being a Hindu or belonging to any other religious or ethnic minority will create hurdles in educational or professional life. I never felt discriminated and neither was I made to feel less than others. In fact, I got encouragement along with motivation from my peers and family to move forward.”
She also emphasised that more girls should come out and pursue their dreams; religious minorities and specifically girls should not sit back and wait for a miracle to happen and someone to come put everything in their lap. Dr Sumbal said that she created her own miracle by breaking the shackles and proving religious freedom in KP.
More and more females in KP are getting an education to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men in all walks of life. Earlier, Shazia Ishaq, also hailing from Chitral became the first female PSP officer from her area, which shows the awareness and interest of girls from these areas towards education to excel in life. And not to forget the marvellous achievements of Sher sisters, belonging to Haripur, who made the whole nation and specifically the Pashtuns proud.
Interestingly, the number of primary schools has increased as a consequence of more investment in women’s education and leadership. The government is trying to generate awareness by communicating with the elders of the tribal belt about the vital role of education of young women for the progress of their areas.
To achieve the goal of improved female literacy rate, the KP government’s education department is modernizing 10,000 pre-nursery classrooms, employing 7,000 school leaders for improved management and engaging 65,000 more teaching staff. Similarly, the government granted 70 percent of the total education budget to female education. And for the first time in history, the KP government has established 10,000 well-equipped model classrooms in government primary schools and provided 98 percent missing facilities to the government schools.
Yet, the success of these efforts does not solely depend upon the government. The decision of families to let their girls gain education is essential as it leaves a direct impact on the society because not believing in educating girls costs societies and families in many ways and forms. The residents of NMDs and KP have to ensure that every girl acquires education, so that the females of this area would be able to contribute to the development of their families and the country. HH
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist.
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