When girls education takes a backseat

Parents take a more lax attitude towards girls schooling after APS attack

Amina Khan December 16, 2015
Overturned tables and chairs in a classroom at the Taliban-stricken Army Public School. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS


Focus after the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar shifted to many things in the subsequent days, weeks and months. Surviving students, bereaved families, school security, National Action Plan were all reappearing motifs. The one thing which few spoke of was: The school that was attacked was a boys school but girls were equally petrified about going back. And not seen as the primary breadwinner, many parents saw no harm in protecting their daughters from harm by keeping them where they were safest – home.

A month-long holiday was announced after the brutal massacre, but many students were still not ready to enter their seats of learning. Families The Express Tribune reached out to shared how they were uncertain as to how they should deal with their shook up daughters.
Girls of APS on Mall Road and institutes adjacent to the school where the deadly attack took place admit to fearing for their safety.
Noorul Ain, a ninth grader at Peshawar Model School, says, “I didn’t attend classes for a month and only managed to muster the courage to return after some of my friends took the lead.” Her school is in close proximity to the APS on Warsak Road. As Noor missed over a month of school, her exams did not go as well as she would have hoped.
Sarah Khan, a class nine student of APS&C girls branch says it was hard to attend and her classmates fear another attack whenever there are events or gatherings. Their courses may have been delayed, but teachers are working overtime to make sure the students regain lost time.
Mariam Qureshi, a former APS&C pupil, reveals her parents changed her school in the wake of the massacre. “A problem occurred when I had to take admission to a new school as they had been closed. The process was delayed, but I finally managed to gain admission at another institute.”
Eight-year-old Khansa Adnan, who studies at Iqra Rozatul Quran, remains psychologically vulnerable after the attack which she could hear from her school. She says the sounds of blasts from APS are still fresh in her memory as it is situated near her institute.

A mother’s dilemma 
The attack also rattled the parents. There are mixed emotions among the mothers about sending their children—especially daughters—to school.
Sarah’s mother recalls how grateful she was on December 16, 2014 that she had been blessed with a daughter. “Had she been a boy, she would be dead today. We should always be happy with what we have,” 40-year-old Rubina tells The Express Tribune, referring to her conflicting emotions when her fourth child was not a boy.

She still fears sending her to school a year on. Every time Sarah leaves home for school, Rubina says she feels that sinking feel in the bottom of her stomach – the anticipation of something terrible.

“There are many events arranged at her school, but I do not let her go for those.” Rubina admits, “If Sarah asks me to skip school, I say ‘don’t go’.” Sarah has stayed home for weeks after the APS massacre to no push back from her family.

Differing priorities

Nasira says her six-year-old son Adam who went to school on that fateful day was rescued in time. As she talks about how she and her husband would convince their son to go to school after the APS attack, convince him how important education is, it comes across that the same was not in the case of their girls.

Her two daughters, between ages 12 and 13, are in APS girls branch. “After the reopening of schools, they didn’t go for a month and my husband and I were more …sensitive [about them].”

Although Nasira admits no mother can be at ease sending her sons or daughters to school, there is a difference in how she perceives her children’s education. “When Adam would say he will never go back to school, I explain how he has to continue; I admit I am lazy about dealing with my girls – whenever they say they don’t want to go to school, I let them [stay home].”

However, she keeps her chin up over the possibility of an improving law and order situation.
“There were moments when my only son Adam said he wants to change his school or never go again, but he is too little. I had to convince him that education cannot be left at any cost.”
Riffat Asad says she changed her daughter’s school after the attack and got her enrolled in the same institute where she (Riffat) teaches. She adds it was her husband’s decision; the couple could not bear the thought of their daughter’s school being attacked.

However, the mother and daughter now go to the same school, albeit for different objectives, and leaving both parents more relaxed.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th,  2015.


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