Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Civilizing Rural Pakistan

"Back home, you have to go anywhere with your father, mother or brother, because you are a girl."
"We are really proud. We follow her [Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai] and we will follow her in the future."
"In some areas, [of Swat, Pakistan] girls and boys are now even being taught in the same classroom."
"However we can help [by returning to Pakistan], we will."
Shazia Ramzan, 19, Pakistani woman studying in the United Kingdom

"If I'm wearing jeans and my friends [in Pakistan] see pictures online, they say: 'You forgot your culture'."
"Before [prior to being educated in the United Kingdom], my mind was closed. I thought education just related to my family. But now I think about all girls. I want to stand up for them."
"I believe I should go back to my country and try to make change there."
Kainat Riaz, 19, Pakistani woman studying in the United Kingdom
Malala Yousafzai (centre) with Kainat Riaz (left) and Shazia Ramzan, pictured in 2013. Picture: Jane Barlow
    Malala Yousafzai with Kainat Riaz (left) and Shazia Ramzan (right) in 2012. Photo by Jane Barlow

The two young women now studying abroad were 14 (Shazia) and 15 (Kainat) when they became victims of an infamous attack by Pakistani Taliban against young girls living in the Swat Valley who claimed an education for themselves. They were seated alongside their friend, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, when the encounter took place: "The Taliban stopped us, two boys -- or men. One was in the front and the other one came to the back (of the bus).

"He said: Who is Malala? [We had our faces covered (with niqabs) but Malala didn't. We were looking at him and then he shot Malala in the forehead. He shot me on my hand and shoulder, and Kainat's shoulder as well. Then he started shooting randomly", explained Shazia. The girls had been in fact, returning from a chemistry exam and the bus they were in was actually a converted truck, the girls sitting among others, on benches, when their attackers stopped the truck and entered it, searching for Malala.

Malala had gained a reputation for herself as a campaigner for girls' right to an education. She had deliberately made a target of herself by speaking up in an interview on Pakistani television, and by expressing her determination to become educated in an online blog posting, where she also emphasized that girls had a right to an education. Kainat went to a local hospital, and Shazia was treated in Peshawar, in a military hospital which hadn't the wherewithal to treat Malala.

Her injuries were too seriously life-threatening and too complicated and she was flown to the United Kingdom where surgeons there saved her life. The infamy of the attack spread like wildfire around the world, and focused on the plight particularly of Malala. Though other girls were in a similar position to Malala's own, it was she who had brought attention to herself through her public proclamations of dissent and defiance, supported by her father.

When Kainat and Shazia returned home to the Swat Valley after their recovery, the locals viewed them as unwelcome. Neighbours informed Kainat's family they should leave; her presence endangered the rest of the villagers because she had become a target for the Taliban. Neither bus nor taxi drivers would take her to school.The shooting of the girls took place in October of 2012, but by July of 2013 when Malala turned 16, she was invited to address the United Nations to deliver her message.

Offers came flooding in to her from prestigious schools eager to grant her the education she sought, at no charge to her family. Malala settled with her family in Birmingham, England and was enrolled at the private Edgbaston High School for Girls. Mindful of her two injured friends, she asked the international boarding school UWC Atlantic College in the Vale of Glamorgan which had extended an invitation to her which she declined for herself, if her friends could be offered the same opportunity.

And this is how Shazia and Kainat were recognized with full scholarships (paid attendance for a two-year period amounts to $100,000). Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at that time a UN special envoy on global education, helped the girls procure visas. The girls settled in to study at Atlantic College, accustoming themselves to their newfound freedom to go wherever they wished, along with the pleasure of learning to swim.

Malala is now expected to go on to study at Oxford University. Both Shazia and Kainat have been given offers to study nursing at Edinburgh University, with mentor Gordon Brown assisting in finding the required funding. They both plan, on graduation, to return to their country of birth, to do what they can to ensure that all girls and young women have the opportunity to receive an education, and to never have to face the dread situation that they had encountered.
Malala's friends Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan were also shot by the Taliban
Malala's friends Shazia Ramzan (left) and Kainat Riaz (right) were also shot by the Taliban Credit:  JAY WILLIAMS

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