Shaista Bibi has been out in Peshawar to buy school text books for her 15-year-old niece. "Now I have to find a way to get these safely to my sister, who lives in a village near the town of Matta in Swat," Shaista told IRIN.
Shaista's older sister, Qudsia Bibi, hopes to use the books to home-school her 15-year-old daughter. The girl, who was planning to take her school-leaving exams in spring, has been unable to go to classes for weeks because of threats posed by militants.
According to an official in Swat’s education department who asked not to be named, enrolment in the area for girls has fallen from about 120,000 to under 50,000 since 2007. Over 130 schools - mainly girls’ schools - in Swat have been destroyed in the past year, according to education department sources.
"I am too terrified to even send my daughter to a private school. I will try and teach her at home, as I have a B.A. degree, and am one of the few graduates in this area," Qudsia told IRIN from Swat.
She has also agreed to offer lessons to some of her daughter’s former classmates, provided they come to her house in ones and twos - and in secret, on the pretext of errands to avoid attracting the attention of militants.
Local residents fear a ban announced by the Taliban on education for girls, from 15 January, will lead to harsh measures to clamp down on learning for women.
Private schools in the area were due to reopen on 15 January, but according to Mussarat Hilali, a lawyer and a senior official in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), "they have refused to reopen till they have assurances from the militants that they will not attack the schools."
Afraid to go to work
This is not the only kind of hardship women in Swat Valley are facing: Many are afraid of showing up for work.
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
|Working women are facing growing harassment in Swat|
"I worked as a pharmacist in Mingora [Swat's principal city]. But my parents were warned my behaviour was 'immoral' because I worked alongside men, and now I have stopped, even though this means a loss of income for my family, who badly need the Rs 8,000 [US$105] I brought in each month," Shandana Jabeen (not her real name), 21, told IRIN. She said her parents were fearful the militants could 'punish' them if she continued to work.
Such fears are not far-fetched. Hamid Mir, a well-known talk show host on Geo TV, gave a shocking account in a newspaper article of a woman school teacher, who was labelled a prostitute by militants and then killed as she had refused to give up work. The woman, a mother of three from the village of Kuza Bandai, was a widow and the sole supporter of three children.
"We have been hearing of more and more cases of women being prevented from going to work. Messages broadcast on FM radio warn men to keep them at home or face reprisals. In the case of the woman killed because she worked, she was terribly humiliated both before and after she died and had ankle-bells placed around her feet, to show she was a prostitute," the HRCP’s Hilali told IRIN.
“Even women in gynaecological wards in Swat are being harassed by the militants who tell them to plait their hair and not to use decorative clips or bands," she said.
Other women in villages around Mingora have been ordered to dress in 'burqas', the head-to-toe veil favoured by the Taliban. "My wife and daughter were asked to don 'burqas' by a band of young militants, even though they were fully covered in thick 'chadors' [a long outer garment worn by women]," Jahanzeb Khan, from Swat, told IRIN in Peshawar. He is currently seeking work in the city, so that he can move his family out of Swat. Tens of thousands of people are estimated by local rights activists to have already fled.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions