Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meanwhile, in Northern Pakistan

The Taliban is attacking girls' schools and demanding that they all close:

In a dark echo of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, violent religious extremists in Pakistan are moving to restrict girls' education as they seek to impose a draconian version of Islamic law on a beleaguered population.

In a northern valley where Taliban guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against security forces for more than a year, hard-liners have blown up or burned down some 170 schools, most of them for girls. Then in December, a warning by militants in a pirate radio broadcast: All schools for girls should close by Jan. 15.

This week, an association representing 400 private schools for boys and girls in the Swat valley said they would all remain closed after the winter break because of the threat.

"Since the Taliban's warning, attendance in our schools has reduced by almost half" to some 20,000 students, association president Ziauddin Yousufzai told The Associated Press on Friday.

"From today, we have closed our schools as we cannot run our education system in this insecure environment," he said.

Yes, it does sound like an echo from what took place in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and more than in the obvious way of trying to force all women and girls to stay uneducated and hidden at home. There's also the same defense for not doing anything about the situation: Worse things are taking place such as people dying. I remember reading just that argument when the girls and women in Afghanistan were blocked from going to school or studying. And here it is again:

But another senior provincial official, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, suggested the schools issue was secondary.

"People are being killed, they are being hanged there, so why are we talking about schools? Are schools open in Gaza?" Bilour said.

That's right. Issues affecting the whole lives of women and girls are always secondary. Just imagine how it would have sounded if in the 1990s the Taliban had blocked one of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan from all employment and all education. The outcries we would have heard from all around the world! But when it's girls and women it's never primary.