Equality Now Calls on Pakistan's Government to Protect Girls and Ensure Their Right to Education
In late December 2008 the Taliban ordered a ban on girls’ education in the district of Swat in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The announcement made by an extremist cleric, Maulana Fazlullah through an illegal FM radio station, asked all parents to remove their daughters from school (both private and public) by 15 January 2009, failing which schools would be bombed, girls murdered and, like the recent case in Afghanistan, acid thrown in their faces.
The Taliban have come to play an increasing role in the Swat valley and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) over the past two years. According to media reports, in the last 14 months they have destroyed 100 schools in Swat affecting about 70,000 girls. If the education ban is not effectively challenged, it is estimated that an additional 40,000 girls will be denied their basic right to education.
Women in Swat have also been deeply affected by the growing prominence of the Taliban in other ways. The Taliban have threatened to take dire action if women are found outside their homes without the company of male family members and identity cards. In addition, they have ordered the complete veiling of women. Media reports estimate that about a dozen women have been shot for “immoral activities,” including women such as Bakht Zeba, a 45-year-old councilor committed to advancing girls education. Local NGOs have confirmed to Equality Now that the situation for women and girls in FATA and more recently Swat, are grave.
Pakistan’s government is reportedly considering the application of Shariah law within these areas as a way to end conflict with militants, although it appears as if fundamentalists have already established their own courts in many areas to enforce Shariah and have introduced public executions for those who break it. Government sanction of a parallel legal system interpreted by those who deny the basic rights of women and girls is both unconstitutional and unacceptable.
The responsibility to ensure that the right to education of any Pakistani girl is not threatened or compromised, including through acts of non-state actors, rests with the Government of Pakistan. In particular, Articles 25 and 34 of the Pakistani Constitution require that the State remove discrimination and ensure the full participation of women in all spheres and Article 37 requires the State to “remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period” and “make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” In addition, Pakistan has ratified various international conventions which obligate it to ensure gender equality and to guarantee the rights to education, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Equality Now is calling on the Government of Pakistan to take immediate action, coordinated between law enforcement, legislature (national and provincial), the Ministry of Education and other line ministries to ensure women and girls in FATA and Swat are able to fully exercise their rights without fear of violence or intimidation including the access of all girls to school as well as their security in school. In addition, the Government should reject the endorsement of any alternative legal system which does not guarantee to all citizens the rights provided under the Pakistani Constitution and the international human rights instruments to which Pakistan is a party. Please write to the officials listed below asking them to give immediate and urgent attention to eliminate the threat to girls’ education in Swat and to curb all moves to reduce or deny women’s rights in Pakistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
Dr. Fehmida Mirza
Speaker, National Assembly of Pakistan
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 
Meer Hazar Khan Bijarani
Minister of Education
Ministry of Education
Tel: (0092-51) 920-1392, 921-2020
E-mail: email@example.com 
[add address of relevant official]
Dear [President Zardari/Dr, Mirza/ Minister] [delete as appropriate]
I am writing to express my deep concern about the violence and discrimination being faced by women and girls in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat in Pakistan and, in particular, the targeting of girls’ schools by militants who have announced a ban on girls’ education effective 15 January 2009. I am also concerned about reports that the Government of Pakistan is considering the adoption of shariah (Islamic law) in these areas as a way to compromise with the militants.
I urge the Government of Pakistan to take immediate action, coordinated between law enforcement, legislature (both national and provincial), the Ministry of Education and other relevant ministries in order to ensure that women and girls in FATA and Swat are able to fully exercise their rights without fear of violence or intimidation, including the access of all girls to school as well as their security. I urge the Government to ensure that any intervention upholds Pakistan’s commitments to gender equality and education under its Constitution as well as under international human rights instruments ratified by it. As such, I would also urge you to reject the endorsement of any alternative legal system which does not guarantee equality to all.
I thank you for your attention.