Gehava Bibi, 9, is very excited. She is visiting the city of Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan, with her father to buy some basic school supplies. She has never held a pencil or piece of chalk. “This seems like magic,” she told IRIN as she awkwardly drew a few squiggly lines across a piece of paper offered to her by the shop-owner.
Bibi has never been to school; there is no educational facility in her village in the Bolan district, some 154km southeast of Quetta, and like 90 percent of women in rural Balochistan, according to official figures, she is illiterate.
However, recently, an elderly villager, who had spent many years in the southern port city of Karachi, has returned to Bolan and offered to provide the girls in the village with some basic education.
Fazila Aliani, a social activist, educationist and former member of the Balochistan provincial assembly, recently told the media the reason for the lack of educational facilities was the “insurgency” in the province, “while a lack of necessary funds, absence of a well-defined education policy, lack of girls’ schools, acute shortage of teaching staff, and poverty are other factors which contribute to the backwardness”.
She said that except for Quetta, educational institutions were “non-existent in Baloch-dominated areas of the province”. Aliani also said foreign donors seeking to set up schools in Balochistan struggled to do so because of the lack of security and government resistance.
Another reason is the reluctance of teachers to venture into districts they see as dangerous. Strikes by militants on targets that include security personnel occur frequently in Balochistan, with one of the most recent killing 14 members of the Frontier Corps force in the district of Musakhel.
There have also been attacks on teachers, such as one in October, when four female teachers in Quetta had acid thrown at them as they left school. A December 2010 report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch reports the killing of 22 teachers in Balochistan between January 2008 and October 2010.
The attacks on teachers aggravate what is an already grim literacy situation for girls. “I used to teach at a private school in the town of Khuzdar in Balochistan. But it is now just too dangerous to live in the province as a Punjabi settler, and my family and I have now moved back to Gujrat in the Punjab province even though we had lived in Balochistan since I was a small child,” said Amina Bano, 28. Other teachers too have moved away.
Balochistan’s literacy figures for women are the lowest in the country, standing at 14.1 percent, compared with more than 35 percent each in Sindh and the Punjab and 18.8 percent in Khyber Pakhtoonkh’wa.
The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Aslam Khan Raisani, has repeatedly condemned the targeting of teachers, and said those involved were “depriving future generations” of education.
“The lack of development in the province is a reason for the lack of education for girls. It is also fuelling the frustration and anger which has created the nationalist insurgency,” Fareed Ahmed, provincial coordinator in Balochistan for the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.
But while nationalist unrest and lack of development have plagued Balochistan for years, this offers no comfort to girls – and their parents – desperate for an education.
“On our television screens, we see girls sitting in classrooms and learning. Their future will be a better one, and unlike me, since I am also uneducated, they can teach their children in the future. Why can’t it be the same for our daughters?” asked Abdullah Jan, 40, father of Gehava Bibi and two other girls, who wants them all to be educated.
“We are trying to do what we can, but we need help,” he said.
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