Difficult for AJK girls to pursue studies in quake-hit areas
10 October 2006
Muzaffarabad: Nazia Bibi has had hard times in pursuing her studies because ofof financial constraints and absence of a separate middle school for girls in or around her mountain village, south of the AJK capital. Her addict brother does not show any interest in household affairs and widowed mother relies on a paltry amount of Zakat, yet she is determined to carry on her studies. “It was very, very hard to continue studies, but I did not give in to the adverse conditions out of my fondness,” said the 14-year-old eighth grade student. Bibi lives in Chandera village, more than 5000 feet above sea level, in union council Charakpura which was completely devastated in the last year’s earthquake. “Up to class five, it was my teacher who provided me books and stationery. And after that, absence of a girls school in the area was the major problem,” she told Dawn in her village. Khaliq Ahmed, a primary school teacher, said he got her admitted to a middle school for boys, although the head teacher was reluctant to take a girl on the rolls. It’s not a problem of Bibi alone; hundreds of girls in the conservative rural belt face similar problems. Not only parents find it difficult to send their girls to coeducation schools but the girls themselves feel uncomfortable in such institutions. Charakpura, a union council of 18 villages, has only one high school and four middle schools, all for boys, although the ratio of school-going girls at primary level is higher than that of the boys. “It was in view of this problem that some people made a request to the head teacher of boys’ high school to grant admission to the girls willing to pursue their studies,” said Mr Ahmed. “There are difficulties in coeducation but we cannot help; after all we have to educate our girls,” he added. Mr Ahmed also heads the Committee for Child Protection and Development (CCPD), a brainchild of Save the Children, a UK-based charity engaged in aid activities in the quake hit zone. “The aim and objective of the committee is to put in place a system for child protection at community level,” says Beenish Khaleel, charity’s assistant programme officer. She says a large number of girls discontinue their studies either due to poverty and unawareness or for want of separate girls schools. Coeducation, says Salma Sarfraz, a student of 9th grade in Anwaar Sharif High School, may work well in cities, but it is unsuitable for rural areas. “Honestly speaking, we don’t feel comfortable in our class,” she said. Discontinuation of education lands girls into other problematic situations, like early marriages against their wishes. Nazish Sudheer pointed out that even the parents who favoured girls’ education were compelled to change their mind due to long distances between their villages and high schools. “It may not be much difficult for boys, but it is certainly difficult for girls. The government must do something to end this tendency,” said a student of 8th grade. The unusual forthrightness of students is in itself is a pleasant change which they attribute to the SCUK advocating their rights, something they never knew about before the quake. The charity has also constituted “children councils” at village level to create awareness among children about their rights. “When we started, it was a new thing not only for the children but also for their parents. But now things are changing pleasantly,” said Ms Khaleel. Her assertion was corroborated by Ms Sudheer who is chairperson of Anwaar Sharif village children council. “Before them we had no or little idea about our rights. For example, if our parents are hesitant to continue our education we can persuade them. Even if there is no separate school, that does not mean we should be deprived of our right to further education,” she added. The children council and the CCPD members hold joint meetings once in a month where children highlight their problems and needs through skits, tableau and discussion. “And at the national level, we have been conducting and hosting walks, seminars, radio programmes and media briefings to draw attention of the government officials and the community at large towards the issues confronting children, Ms Khaleel said. According to her, after identifying cramped accommodation in schools as another serious problem, they have constructed 30 structures for primary schools in Union Council Charakpura. Elsewhere in Muzaffarabad and Bagh districts it has provided 189 structures, 44 of which are under construction. It has also provided technical and financial support to the directorate of education planning for establishment of education management information system, which plays a vital role in the success of any programme. Education department officials admit that in some areas they have yet been unable to establish separate schools for girls. “We are in picture of the problem and we are working out strategies to overcome it,” said an official. Back in Chandera village, girls wish this should not take too long or else many more girls will continue to land in the darkness of illiteracy.