Education for Girls; a tool for Empowerment

When I was thirteen I had to leave my school after being abused by my teacher; so I decided never to go back to a school. Yet I knew how important education was for a girl, and so was it for me. I felt the urge to be educated, but not in a traditional school. So I began self-educating myself. I was ready to break the traditional barriers set to girls in a society that still believes that girls need not to be educated. I wanted to be that girl who one day be transformed into an educated woman. I wanted to be that girl who wanted to educate other girls who were not privileged as me to be educated. Hence I began dreaming of starting my own school one day, and that is what I did eventually after some year.

This is the story about me and my free education for girls in the land of Pakistan. And this is the story of a young Pakistani girl whose life was changed from prostitution to being empowered through being offered free education.

My journey towards my goal began during my young teens in my own garden. I began with teaching young children in the courtyard of my house; at the same time I began teaching myself. I was fortunate to receive support from my family. But I soon realized I needed finances to support my dream – which was to establish free education for girls. So when I was only 15 years of age, I started my first job for the salary of $6 a month.

It has been two decades since I began the first school together with a few other women.  Today there are two schools that provides twelve years of free education for girls, and a skill learning centre to develop skills of young women, so they could be empowered financially, and support themselves and as well as their families. Annually 400 young women learn free skills from the institution.

Girls in Pakistan face numerous hardships in education. Cultural practices and economic standards of families hinder many girls from getting the required education. Hence I decided to establish schools to support girl children with their education.

Nancy [not her real name], a young girl in her late teens used to attend one of my schools. But I found that her attendance to schools had decreased gradually during the past years, and then one day it turned into a school dropout. After some years I noticed Nancy being in the skill centre, and questioned her as to why she stopped attending school. “I am learning stitching instead because I cannot continue my studies any further. And I cannot tell you the reason because if the other girls get to know the reality, they will begin to hate me”, replied Nancy with tears in her eyes.

Nancy’s father had always been a drug addict who often beat his wife, even to the extent where she gets hospitalized at times. Once after being seriously assaulted by her husband, Nancy’s mother who had faced serious injuries obtained divorce from her husband. She left him; but also made the mistake of leaving behind her two daughters Nancy and Tanya [not their real names] and her young son under the care of their drug addict father. And that is when the worst times of life began for Nancy and Tanya.

My father stopped us all from attending school. He made us do all household chores. Then when my sister was thirteen years of age, he brought in some of his drunkard friends and forced my sister to have sex with them. When my sister refused, he would beat her harshly.

Tanya was not able to refuse and fight against her father and his friends for long. The physical and emotional torture she underwent made her to surrender to the vicious people. The men who came for Tanya increased in numbers, and Tanya’s father used the money for his self-desires. After three long years Tanya’s sufferings came to end, when she decided to put an end to it by using her only possible means which was to commit suicide.

Yet, the eldest daughter’s death did not bring realization to the father. He decided to make use of his second daughter Nancy, who by then was fourteen years of age.

After seeing all that my sister had faced, I had to give in to my father’s demands. I too became a sex worker in my own home. After four years of strenuous labour, I fled from my home to my mother’s house to live with her and her new husband. Yet, even in my mother’s house my sufferings did not reach to an end. My step-father forced me to be his sex slave; and when I refused, he began beating me. He threatened my mother about divorcing her whenever she tried to stop him from beating or nearing me. As she did not wish to leave her second marriage and the children she had through this marriage, she remained silent. So I ran away from that house too”, narrated Nancy

Nancy who had run away for the second time from both her parents’ homes, found shelter in a house as a house-maid. Though she was given shelter and food with a mere amount of wages, she was again sexually harassed. She had to leave her job and the house after being raped by the owner himself. Later living in a friend’s house Nancy began to learn sewing, and with her help once again joined Zeph education, and this time not the school, but the skill centre.

Whenever I see men, I feel scared; I feel like hiding myself from them. But here in this centre I feel free and safe because there aren’t any men around. I feel relaxed amidst all these girls and women. I want to become a Tailor after I obtain the skills from this centre. I am lucky to learn this for free. I want a small house of my own; and I want to earn a decent income; I will never give charge to any man to rape me or use me for sexual activities for the purpose of food, clothes and shelter. I am thankful to this place.

Nancy wanted to learn a skill to help her achieve her small dream. She did not realize that education would make even bigger dreams come true. But I was able to convince her; I was able to support her; and today Nancy is attending sewing lessons, while also continuing her education in our school. And today I realized my calling to establish a free education for girls, so that many lives of girl children, young girls and women could be saved, so that they could be redeemed from pain and suffering.

Education is a tool that empowers women. But still even today many communities and cultures discriminate women and girls, preventing them their basic education. Among children not attending school there are twice as many girls as boys, and among illiterate adults there are twice as many women as men. Through education girls and women are given the capacity and power to make choices of their own, and overcome barriers they face in life. Education is a basic human right [The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women].

‘No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.’ – Michelle Obama

‘The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.’ – Aung San Suu Kyi

‘To educate girls is to reduce poverty.’ – Kofi Annan

Sis. Zeph  |  Pakistan