A fragile looking eighth standard student, with a textbook in her hand smiles shyly as she narrates the difficulties she faces in her school. She is a student of the Government Middle school at Wayil Wooder, which enrolled 220 students in total with 11 staff members but no female staffer.

“There are number of times we have to talk about personal issues which we cannot disclose in front of our male teachers and because of not having any female staff member, we are unable to solve the queries,” says the fragile Nazam Akhtar.

One of the major reasons of there being no female teachers is that the area is considered to be highly underdeveloped. This not only discourages the female staff to take up teaching here but also deters the female students to continue studies.

The school is located in a hilly area with substandard road condition, having two buildings consisting of two washrooms, six classrooms, single kitchen, computer lab and staff room.

According to the staff, hardly, 30 per cent of the female students pursue their higher education. One of the various reasons is the power of patriarchy in Pashto community. “We are willing to proceed with our further education but our families do not allow us to continue,” says Akhtar.

Pashto students in Kashmir
Children at the school in Wayil. Photograph by Sarwat Javaid

The nearest higher secondary is a co-education school that is another reason for parents not allowing their daughters for further education. “People here believe that higher the woman educates, the more she moves towards the modernisation. Thus, dwindling the culture,” says Saleem Pathan, a general teacher at the Wayil school.

He believes that Haya and Sharam are important for girls in their community. The Girls Higher Secondary school is located seven kilometers from the village and does not have transport facilities. It is not possible for every student to afford private transportation.

The school staff says that they have no facilities in comparison to the government schools of the rural areas. There is only one washroom in the school which is shared by the students and the staffers. “Even if we try to change the thinking of the people here, it is impossible. One man cannot stand against the whole community,” says Gulzar Ahmed Khan, a teacher at Wayil.

The desire to continue their further education only remains a distant reality. “Girls are not allowed to study. I have never seen any girl studying after matriculation in my village,” says a student.

There are barely four women who work to earn their living among the population of about 15,000 in the area. “Our community does not allow a woman to work,” says Pathan.

Pashto girls in Kashmir
Children at the school in Wayil. Photograph by Sarwat Javaid

Almost, all the girls are engaged by the time they reach the age of 18. “People have made the boundary of the school as dumping area,” says Zaheer Ahmed, another teacher. The school staff have sent letters to all the nearby mosques, requesting to ask the people of the community to not dump the waste near the school’s boundary. Ahmed asserts, “Cleanliness is not the only problem to add to it we have dangerous dogs in our street, a month back one of our students was bit by one of them.”

Another, Government Middle School located nearby in Kangan Zone has enrolled 70 students belonging to Pashto and Kohistani community. The school has total eight staff members and no female staff members at present.

“In my four years of experience in this school, I have seen zero percentage of parental care and lack of motivation in students by their families,” says Mohammad Ramzan Lone, Head Master at the Kangan school. “There is hardly any girl student who is able to pursue higher education. The strength of the girls in the highest grade in the school is six.”

Speaking of life after middle school, Lone says, “Last year, I was invited to a marriage of an ex-student soon after he completed his middle school.” He told that most of the students get married after their middle school or at least after their matriculation.

On asking students if education is important to them, Shabnam Akhtar, 14, responds, “We are never taught to give priority to our education and our community is not in support as well.” She believes that everyone wants to study, seek education, live life under the shadow of knowledge. The major problem is our society is conservative when it comes to women and no one is willing to break the stereotypes.

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