Successive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) governments, after getting elected, have claimed that their main focus will be on education, particularly for girls, but unfortunately this has remained only a claim, with no practical steps taken to achieve it. A majority of the girls in K-P are deprived of a higher education. Girls in most districts of the province end up receiving only primary-level education due to the lack of secondary education facilities while only a lucky few, with great difficulty, reach the university level.
There are various reasons behind lack of higher education opportunities for girls in the province. There is a lack of facilities in rural districts, such as Lakki Marwat, Torghar, Malakand, Upper Dir, Dera Ismail Khan, Lower Dir, Tank, Bannu and even in some urban districts like Mardan, Charsadda, Kohat and Nowshera.
Another reason for lack of education opportunities is the girls’ inaccessibility to colleges. In some districts, colleges are located in the bigger cities and girls from rural areas cannot travel the distance. Furthermore, a majority of parents, even in big cities like Peshawar and Mardan, do not allow their daughters to leave their homes for education purposes, therefore they are not educated beyond matriculation. Under Pakhtun customs, couples are often wed at a young age. This is more common in certain districts, where the parents arrange marriages while their daughters are still in school, which also puts a stop to their aspirations of getting higher education.
The regional manager of Khwendo Kor (‘Sisters’ Home), a non-profit, non-partisan organisation that attempts to address issues faced by women in K-P confirms that a very small number of girls in the province are able to reach the university level. He says that while parents allow their girls a primary-level education, the number of girls receiving higher education has gradually decreased due to poverty and cultural barriers. He has further stated that after matriculation, parents often do not allow their girls to travel over great distances, or to other cities to attend college. While the wealthy are able to send their girls to universities, the poor can often not afford this.
Unfortunately, the concerns of these girls remain unheard at the higher echelons of power. The K-P government needs to take steps and initiate campaigns that can break down cultural and economic barriers that hold back girls from pursuing higher education in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.