Girls throng to school in Swat as Malala addresses UN

Published: July 12, 2013
Malala Yousafzai turns 16 today.  PHOTO: FILE

Malala Yousafzai turns 16 today. PHOTO: FILE

MINGORA: When the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head, their message to the world was simple: girls have no right to an education and their dreams of a better future should be crushed.

The attack portrayed the world’s only Muslim nuclear power in an appalling light as Western leaders and celebrities fell over themselves to turn Malala into a global icon of child rights.

But while she gears up to address the UN General Assembly on Friday — her 16th birthday and nine months since the shooting — more girls than ever in her home, Pakistan’s northwestern Swat valley, are in school.

Educationalists say it has less to do with Malala’s fame and more to do with a growing confidence that far from being resurgent, Taliban influence is declining in Swat.

“Many students were actually scared when the government named a college after Malala,” said Anwar Sultana, head mistress of Government Girls High School No 1, the oldest in Mingora, the main town in Swat.

Last December, around 150 girls at another school protested against the renaming of their college after the injured schoolgirl, fearing it would make them a target for militants.

They tore up and stoned pictures of Malala, since nominated for the Nobel Peace prize and now being privately educated in Britain, accusing her of abandoning Pakistan.

But Sultana says more girls are now going to school because people feel more liberated as more time passes since the Pakistan army quashed a 2007-9 Taliban insurgency in the valley.

“Whenever you suppress something, it appears with more freedom,” she told AFP, sitting on a veranda as girls in long white shirts and baggy trousers poured out of congested classrooms.

“The Taliban banned girls education and threatened females for going to schools. Now more and more girls are joining schools which means the fear is over,” Sultana said.

In the first six months of 2013, 102,374 girls registered at primary schools in Swat compared to a total of 96,540 during all of last year, said Dilshad Bibi, Swat district education officer.

At Sultana’s school, there are no desks and chairs in the dark brown, grey and orange coloured classrooms. Instead the girls sit on the floor to pack a maximum number into each room.

Saeeda Rahim, 13, is one of those girls.

The Taliban stopped her and thousands of other girls from going to school between 2007 and 2009. When the army offensive came in 2009, she and her family were forced to flee for their safety.

Displaced for three months, she spent much of the time in tears, her dreams of getting an education and becoming a doctor in tatters.

“Those days were the most difficult of my life. I lost hope and courage. I had no energy to read. I thought I’d never be able to study again,” she told AFP.

Then when her family returned home, her mother initially refused to let her go back to school, fearing that she could be attacked.

But she is now back at Government High School No 1. She covers her face with a white veil, wears the pink strip of a prefect and says she takes inspiration from Malala.

“I really like her speeches. I want to continue her work, I want to appear in the media and convince parents that education is a right for their daughters,” she said.

There is certainly a long way to go.

Throughout Pakistan, nearly half of all children and nearly three quarters of young girls are not enrolled in primary school, according to UN and government statistics published late last year.

In Malala’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province only 36 percent of women and 72 percent of men are literate, according to the government.

Muhammad Atif, the provincial education minister, says hardline Islamist militants have destroyed 750 schools since 2008, of which 611 have been reconstructed.

The new provincial government, led by the party of former cricketer Imran Khan, has increased its annual education budget by 27 percent and declared female education its priority.

“Our government has allocated 66 billion rupees ($660 million), the highest amount in the provincial budget for education and female education is our top priority,” said Atif.

Azra Niaz, a teacher at Government Girls High School No 1, says Malala’s defiance and determination to continue her education — despite being so badly wounded — was a true inspiration.

“Every girl has been encouraged. Their fear has stopped. Every girl now wants to become a Malala. They say ‘we want to study and progress in life’,” she told AFP.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (37)

  • hk
    Jul 12, 2013 - 12:27PM

    malala is indeed pride of pakistan.


  • Thor
    Jul 12, 2013 - 12:34PM

    Let the child go back to her country, enough of malal in spotlight.


  • Jul 12, 2013 - 12:41PM

    Now that’s an achievement!


  • hk
    Jul 12, 2013 - 12:47PM

    malala is pride of pakistan


  • logic
    Jul 12, 2013 - 12:49PM

    Malala the brave one, this nation salutes you


  • Farhan
    Jul 12, 2013 - 1:10PM

    I love your courage and determination. Long live Malala!


  • ModiFied
    Jul 12, 2013 - 1:20PM

    Malala, the real “Daughter of the East”.


  • Harisha from India
    Jul 12, 2013 - 1:24PM

    Only when we put ourselves in the shoes of this girl will we realize how brave this girl is when she opposed terrorism. She is the role model for all girls in every country in the world.
    Very very brave girl indeed.


  • True Indian
    Jul 12, 2013 - 1:32PM

    But Malala is not proud of Pakistan…….but the question is : WHO IS PROUD OF PAKISTAN ????


  • I am a Khan
    Jul 12, 2013 - 2:16PM

    What happen to her was wrong. But now I fail to understand why she is being made a celebrity. Thousands of people die in pakistan every year and thousands get crippled in violence. They are not made celebrities, so why Malala? She is even lucky to be fit and healthy once again.


  • Umar
    Jul 12, 2013 - 2:20PM

    “The attack portrayed the world’s only Muslim nuclear power in an appalling light as ……….”

    This is subtle yellow journalism. Malala Yousafzai is also a Pakistani. People in Pakistan stood up behind her and, more so than for anyone else, she is a symbol of hope and courage for a lot of Pakistani parents and students. If some of these criminals are Pakistanis, so are majority of the Pakistanis supporting Malala’s cause. If this incident portrayed Pakistan in appalling light then this incident also portrays every single country in the world that supported to create this monster in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Do reflect on that.


  • Muddy sir
    Jul 12, 2013 - 2:26PM

    Why is et displaying her picture which is unislamic. ET is promoting wests interests.


  • S N J
    Jul 12, 2013 - 2:30PM

    Happy Birthday Malala Yousafzai; you’re the face of a progressive & educated Pakistan; Jiyo hazaro saal!


  • Adnan
    Jul 12, 2013 - 3:34PM

    @True Indian:

    Get a life!


  • Adnan
    Jul 12, 2013 - 3:41PM

    Malala Yusufzai you will always be an inspiration to not only the girls of Pakistan but all Pakistan’s youth!


  • ruamn
    Jul 12, 2013 - 3:45PM

    oohhhhhhhh no, not malala Again. we r sick and tired of hear abt her. shes is not the pride of anything at all. the people WHO lives here and die here are the prides.


  • Hedgefunder
    Jul 12, 2013 - 4:07PM

    malala is indeed pride of pakistan.

    If she is indeed a pride of Pakistan, then what did Pakistan actually do to protect her ?
    There are thousands of Malalas in Pakistan, who are abused and mistreated daily and they suffer in silence !
    What does Pakistan do about them ? Except turn blind eye !
    There is nothing good about this and rest assure it does nothing for Pakistan’s image either on world stage !


  • Bahauddin Naul
    Jul 12, 2013 - 5:56PM

    Malala Malala and Malala…….. We aree fed up of this name. Pakistani media please turn some new non-issue into an issue.


  • asad
    Jul 12, 2013 - 5:58PM

    so overhyped


  • Pakislutin chick
    Jul 12, 2013 - 6:01PM

    Malala rocks. Malala is a threat to long bearded mullahs extreme Islam. Cowards who shot her are banging their heads against the wall because of a female.


  • Unbelievable
    Jul 12, 2013 - 6:12PM

    So have you ever caught the thugs who tried to murder her? Have you even launched a significant military offensive to punish the Taliban who targeted her? No wonder this child lives abroad.


  • Aly
    Jul 12, 2013 - 7:26PM

    petty reasoning by some of commentators above ..this nation is conspiracy obsessed. always linking a prominent and daring event with foreign elements . i am unable to understand why if thousands of Malalas are ill treated in Pakistan does it make it not to admire Malala ..we know tens of thousands of people died ..still and are not accepting the truth that who are the terrorists who are the operatives ..despite their constantly claiming of each and every major incident.. btw we are confused nation as well..


  • Ashvinn
    Jul 12, 2013 - 7:46PM

    This girl is a icon for children her age in the rest of the world….. As for why this girl from among so many other Pakistani…… is a hollow and lazy thought process at best….. What is important is that Pakistan has an icon for child education which every parent and educationist in Pakistan can use to beget positive results for Pakistanis and Pakistan.


  • csmann
    Jul 12, 2013 - 7:57PM

    There are still lots of male -chauvinists,backward thinking ones and taliban -sympathisers as can be deduced from some of the comments here. Malala is an icon of bravery, and steadfast struggle of woman’s right to education. That there are lots of other women suffering the same kind of fate as her, is all the more reason to have an icon to look upto. She represents them all.


  • usman
    Jul 12, 2013 - 8:06PM

    @True Indian:
    Who said you that,have you talked in person with her?


  • unbelievable
    Jul 12, 2013 - 8:19PM

    Some of the comments blast Malala like they blast drone attacks. Like the drones she is a constant reminder that terrorist/militants roam Pakistan and your military either can’t or won’t confront them.


  • BP
    Jul 12, 2013 - 8:23PM

    Its shame for Pakistan that they don’t have child/girl rights and top level leaders sleeping safely whereas one girl goes to UN for their safety and help.what a shame!
    she is revealing exact image of Pakistan.


  • Aarvey, India
    Jul 12, 2013 - 8:31PM

    God bless you Malala and keep you safe. You are a very brave girl.


  • azmat khan
    Jul 12, 2013 - 9:05PM

    Malala, you are a great source of inspiration for womenfolk. You will live for ever. Your courage and determination will take you much forward. Women will also take courage from you.You are now a prominent and distinguished icon.Please stay determined.Your name is now death of the Taliban, the forces of darkness. Let your adversaries say every nonsense they like.Good luck.


  • Voice of FATA
    Jul 12, 2013 - 9:11PM

    BRAVO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Carry on noble mission, God Bless you.


  • umasundaram
    Jul 12, 2013 - 11:03PM

    Malala you are a god gifted child
    all the young gilrs should take the example of malala’s desire to learn and learning only makes the peopel mature in their life.


  • 357
    Jul 13, 2013 - 1:07AM

    @Harisha from India:
    Indeed…much better than a hundred sons…any father would be proud of a child like her.


  • Loki
    Jul 13, 2013 - 8:30AM

    @Muddy sir:
    Is this anything new? In this world there so many things going unislamic and everyone does that whats soo shocking in showing a picture?? and where do western interests come from?


  • csmann
    Jul 13, 2013 - 3:09PM

    To the Editors:please put a dislike button alongwith the recommend button.There are some comments that are an affront to a civic society


  • Mohammed Ismail
    Jul 13, 2013 - 7:37PM

    This is against Islam. Islam girls should be wearing burqa always and not go to school. We are following the path of infidels and are promoting obscenity.


  • AL
    Jul 14, 2013 - 4:53AM

    @Mohammed Ismail:
    Actually, it’s none of your business what other people do. Live your own life how you want to, but stop trying to force your values on others.


  • Naveed Lotia
    Jul 14, 2013 - 11:25PM

    @I am a Khan:

    The reason she is celebrated is not because she was shot it is because of her stand, courage and defiance in the face of tyranny. That is what is being celebrated.


More in Pakistan