Pakistan: Swat Taliban ban female education and personal & professional freedom under pain of death, Print E-mail

while extremist fundamentalists demand unmarried girls and women surrender as their "brides" or face the consequences ....


 PAKISTAN ~~ December 31, 2008 Wednesday Muharram 02,1430

Plight of women in Swat

By Khurshid Khan

The Taliban have stepped up their campaign against womens rights - File photo

THE current situation in Swat is such that any sign of peace in the valley has been washed away. The people are living through the most miserable phase of its history. No doubt, the valley has witnessed invasions, turbulence and chaos from the time of Alexander’s invasion in 327 BC to the formation of Swat state in 1917.

However, at least in living memory the present chaos engendered by militancy has no parallel. It has adversely affected the physical and cultural environment, the economy, tourism, trade, governance and social life in the valley.

Unfortunately, in all this, women have been the worst sufferers. The militants’ obscurant version of Islam begins and ends with womenfolk. According to their belief, women are the source of all sins. A cleric while delivering the Friday sermon in Marghazar village was heard telling his flock, ‘My fellow Muslims, listen! The prices of daily commodities are rising because women abandon their homes and loiter about in the markets.’

In fact, the Fazlullah-led militants have announced a complete ban on female education from Jan 15, 2008 on FM radio. Some days ago, they announced that no government or private educational institution would be allowed to enrol girls and that all schools and colleges should stop educating them by Jan 15. Schools found violating this ban would be blown up. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan somewhat modified the announcement saying that schools would remain closed until an Islamic curriculum was devised for imparting education to girls.

Parents and students have lost hope of schools reopening in this volatile atmosphere. The militants have usually been seen to follow up on their words and, despite the army’s presence, there have been no signs of the restoration of peace and harmony.

The militants have bombed or torched more than 100 girls’ schools and colleges to forcibly stop 80,000 girls from going to school in the district. There were 10 high schools, four higher secondary schools and four degree-awarding colleges and a network of primary schools across the district for girls and women, besides a postgraduate institution for young men and women to study at the master’s level.

Against the culture of keeping womenfolk away from development, the rulers of Swat state (1917-1969) encouraged female literacy, the first step on the way to progress, by establishing girls’ schools and colleges. The valley had the highest female literacy rate as compared to neighbouring districts.

After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, their repressive activities started getting support in the Pakhtun areas of Pakistan along the Durand Line. Swat is among the more recent victims of Talibanisation. The secular nature of Swati society is slowly and gradually leaning towards extremism.

The clergy first started speaking against girls’ and women’s education through unauthorised FM radios and at public gatherings. But as they got more emboldened, they attempted to stall female education ­ and eliminate the presence of girls and women in the market ­ through fiercer means including bomb blasts. Many schools have been destroyed in this way.

Then they turned their wrath on women doctors and the female nursing staff in hospitals warning them to observe strict purdah, confine themselves only to wards for women and not to attend calls on their cellphones. The medical superintendent of a group of hospitals complied with the order and circulated a notice to the entire female staff telling them to do as they had been told. Women patients and visitors were also advised to conform to Taliban instructions.

Militants also ordered the segregation of students at the Saidu Medical College, telling the principal to keep away women students from research labs after a certain time. Meanwhile, another college refused to take in women because of the continuous threats of the militants from 2007 onwards. Militants regularly monitor hospitals and colleges. In fact, working women and those attending school or college, or going to the doctor or in the marketplace are given a bad character by the militants.

Indiscriminate mortar shelling has hit houses and killed and injured civilians. In these, the toll for women casualties has been higher since they are more often at home, while unannounced road obstructions or curfews have made sudden medical emergencies, especially among pregnant women, difficult to be attended to. As a consequence women have lost their newborns as they have not been able to make it to the hospital in time. Besides, with their men also casualties of militancy, many of them are losing breadwinners in the family.

The threatened closure of educational institutions has proved to be the last nail in the coffin. The mindset of the militants ­ who routinely resort to the violation of fundamental rights in order to accomplish their goal ­ is clear and their misused and illegal authority has led them to establish a state within a state. Swat is not a no-man’s-land and is very much an integral part of the country. By tradition its inhabitants are not religious bigots. In fact, society in Swat is more civilised and accommodating of opinions than the rest of the Pakhtun belt. Islamabad should understand that and break its silence to take assertive action against the militants if it does not want Talibanisation to engulf the area and paralyse the entire structure of society.

Where are all the international and national human rights organisations and women rights groups? They must raise a collective voice against this victimisation of Swati women and girls. It is also time for the media to take drastic steps to highlight the current lot of Swati women whose repressive treatment should also serve as a wake-up call for women parliamentarians to take an active part in rescuing them from the spread of a venomous culture.
 Thursday, December 25, 2008

Taliban ban female education in Swat district

 Location of Swat District (highlighted in yellow) within the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

SWAT: Taliban in Swat district have imposed a ban on female education and have warned teachers of 'severe consequences' if any girl is seen heading for school after a 15-day deadline ends, local residents said on Wednesday. The announcement was made by a spokesman of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah - who has waged an armed struggle to impose Taliban rule in the district - on a pirated FM radio frequency. "All the private and government schools have been given 15 days to close down the female education facilities. They have also banned women from visiting markets," Muhammad Osman, a school teacher, said. "Taliban have established a parallel government in 90 percent of the district's area and they execute everyone who opposes them," he added. online

 Pakistan ~~ January 02, 2009 Friday Muharram 04, 1430

PESHAWAR: Swat women fading into oblivion

By Sadia Qasim Shah

PESHAWAR, Dec 30: Once an avid listener of Maulana Fazlullah’s FM radio, popularly known among rural women as Radio Maulana, a young woman from Swat doesn’t listen to the radio anymore.

“Usually there is only dreadful news on the radio, so I stopped listening to it,” says 30-year-old Salma, a widow with three sons, who teaches at a primary school.

A major reason among many others for her disenchantment is what she calls slaughter of human beings like chickens by Taliban.

The Swat milieu is full of rumours these days since women have been confined to homes due to Taliban’s strict anti-women policies.

Salma says that she recently heard something which shocked her. Taliban announced that families having grown up unmarried girls should announce it in a mosque so that their hand could be given in marriage, most probably to militants. If they don’t do so the girls would be forcibly married off, it is said.

Salma is of the view that women in Swat are not safe even in their homes and their lives are embittered by chauvinist militants. One thing that disenchants her the most is cutting throats and body parts of human beings over petty things.

Slowly she stopped listening to the radio sermons in the evening which usually ended with threatening directives most of the times for female over issues like education, their freedom of movement and work.

Maulana Fazlullah led militants in Swat now called Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat chapter are reminiscent of Taliban rule in Afghanistan who used to beat burqa-clad women brutally if found outside their homes or without the company of a male family member.

Taliban in Swat have also threatened women of dire punishment if they are found outside their homes without company of a male family member and identity cards. Couples should also carry ‘Nikah Naama’ or marriage certificate along with them when they venture out or they will be in trouble.

“I have heard that Taliban have announced that if a girl above the age of seven is found outside her house she would be slaughtered,” Salma says. She tells this scribe how terrified she was when she recently took risk of going to hospital along with her three children for treatment as she had no male family member.

Sometimes she listens to FM transmission at night (from 7pm to 8pm) not out of devotion but out of curiosity to see what announcements will be made by Taliban.

Recently Taliban’s announcement of banning girls’ education has not only upset Salma and her primary level girl students but also her colleagues – most of them are sole bread-earners of the poor families.

“My colleagues were crying when they heard this bad news. Some have aged handicapped parents while others have lost their male members in the ongoing conflict,” Salma says.

“Our principal has said that all female teachers should write down their domestic problems forcing them to work so that they could be forwarded to Taliban who would be requested to review their policy about women’s education,” Salma says.

Many women unable to go out for work have set up shops, selling cloth, shoes and other female accessories at their homes but it is a risky job even to go out for shopping from these house-based shops, Salma adds.

Husband of one such woman shopkeeper says that he recently faced losses when he bought fashionable black burqas from Peshawar worth Rs100,000. Nobody bought it as Taliban have ordered women in Swat to wear only ‘shuttlecock’ type of burqas.

A local social worker says on condition of anonymity for his safety that more than a dozen women have been shot dead for their involvement in allegedly ‘immoral activities’. Women who go out for work especially social work are tagged as ‘immoral’ and eliminated by the militants controlling the area, he adds.

Bakht Zeba, a 45-year-old woman councillor, who was a staunch supporter of girls’ education was brutally murdered on the morning of Nov 25. Bakht Zeba, who has young sons and married daughters herself, used to collect uniforms and text-books for poor girls and even used to engage herself in other social welfare activities like raising funds for dowry for young girls from poor families.

But all such activities are deemed as ‘immoral activities’ by Taliban controlling the area, say the locals who plead not to be named for their own security.

She was first threatened by Taliban to stop her activities or face dire consequences which she did not pay heed to. They riddled her body with bullets in her house the very next day.
 Pakistan ~~ Wednesday, January 07, 2009, Muharram-ul-Haram 09, 1430 A.H

The fall of Swat

There has been no official announcement, no victory parades or televised addresses by the victorious party, no cheering crowds welcoming the liberators – but Swat, to all intents and purposes, has fallen to the Taliban. It is the announcement that all girls education in the valley will cease from January 15 that is the tipping point. All schools that teach girls have been ordered by the Taliban to close by that date or face the inevitable consequences – being blown up being the most usual of these. They have already blown up well over a hundred girls schools, principally those operated by the government, but have moved in recent weeks to blowing up private institutions as well. Female education has virtually ceased anyway, and the Taliban announcement merely puts the seal on what is a manifest reality – the government has lost the battle for Swat and the Taliban have won. They operate at will, go where they like, issue orders and proclamations that a terrified public are unable to ignore and broadcast their message of obscurantism on the radio for all to hear – and obey.

The ANP government of NWFP has called for assistance. But little seems to be forthcoming. Refugees stream out of the valley, the operators of private schools try to fight a rearguard action, the tourist trade is dead and buried long ago and the beautiful valley of Swat now enters a time of darkness. The Taliban announcement regarding girl's education may seem a strange point at which to declare Swat 'fallen' – but it is of huge symbolic significance. It is significant because there will be compliance – the population and the operators of schools, including the government who are the majority education provider – will do what they are told. They will obey the orders of the Taliban because the Taliban are more powerful than the government that is supposed to protect and sustain them. The government is unable or unwilling to protect its own schools and is not going to lift a finger to protect those of the private sector. It gives the clear impression of having abandoned Swat and its people to whatever their fate may be.

Could the government – either of Musharraf or the present rudderless, drifting Marie Celeste – have done anything to stop this? Yes, and in all likelihood they decided not to. The notion that somehow the militants are our 'allies' runs as a strong and deep current through elements of the army and intelligence services, the bureaucracy and the politicians themselves. There are powerful forces that provide tacit if not overt support to them, forces which would like to see the Taliban triumphant in the rest of Pakistan and not just Swat. The caliphate of Swat is becoming a reality before our eyes. Where next?