Girls throng to school in Swat as Malala addresses UN
AFP Saturday, July 13, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
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 hard-line 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 (US$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.
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