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Clearing the path for female teachers

© UNICEF/PAKA001/Angers
Women board the bus in Hangu ready for the morning's journey to their schools

For five long years teacher Zubaida Wahab had to endure a dangerous and uncomfortable three-hour ride by horse and cart to get to her school. The cart was often late and in bad weather couldn’t make the journey at all. It was especially hard during her pregnancy with son Khuzaifa.

Primary school teacher Tahira Zabool had a local bus to take her to her job but had to spend a third of her 3,000 rupees ($US50) monthly salary on it. She faced anger from her family not only because of the cost but at the fact she had to travel alone with men and return home late. Like many female teachers she considered leaving her post.

Now thanks to a simple initiative in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to transport women teachers to and from school, Zubaida and Tahira pay 200 rupees ($US3.30) a month to travel with a handpicked driver in a Toyota van which gets them to school in half the time and leaves them back at home at the end of the day. They use the journey to swap ideas with other female teachers.

The UNICEF-supported Mobility Support Scheme started in 2003 and is being run in three rural districts, Hangu, Swabi and Upper Dir, in NWFP. It is a conservative area where less than 40 per cent of the population (aged 15 years and over) is literate and where there is striking disparity between male and female literacy (59 per cent and 21 per cent respectively).

In NWFP cultural norms exist such as purdah (literal translation ‘curtain’) which means women can not leave their homes without permission and can be seen only by close family members and izzat (honour) which entrusts the reputation of the family to its women.

Women who are allowed to work outside their homes must be accompanied or risk damaging their reputation and that of their family. This restriction on movement means that in rural areas there are often no qualified women on hand to fill teaching posts and they must travel from outside. Unfilled posts and constant absenteeism due to mobility constraints mean parents stop sending their children, and especially their girls, to school.

To break this vicious circle and begin the process of creating a generation of educated girls who might one day become teachers in their own community, UNICEF, in partnership with the NWFP Directorate of Schools and Literacy, local teachers and parents, proposed a simple solution. Local vehicles were hired and trusted drivers chosen from the community to take the women to and from their schools.

© UNICEF/PAKA002/Angers
Teacher Tahira Batool directs her mathematics class at Sero Zai Govt. Primary School, Hangu

Since its start in 2003 the scheme has been a resounding success with 300 female teachers currently benefiting and approximately 150 new teachers appointed in the three districts. The monthly cost per teacher works out at approximately 1,600 rupees (US$26.6) but with UNICEF support the teachers have only to find 200 rupees a month. In Hangu district 21 closed primary schools have been reopened and the scheme, in conjunction with UNICEF-supported Community Feeder Schools, has seen girls’ enrolment increase from 800 to 14,000. In Upper Dir an 85 per cent drop in absenteeism was recorded.

“In my school there were only 15 students when the mobility support started and now there are 45. More parents send their daughters to school. They know I will be there.”

Teacher Mubashira Bashir-ud-din was on the point of quitting her position because of the expense. She said: “In my school there were only 15 students when the mobility support started and now there are 45. More parents send their daughters to school. They know I will be there.”

Mubashira will marry soon and her future in-laws are proud of the fact she is a teacher. “Teaching is a very attractive proposition for ladies,” she says. “It is possibly the only acceptable profession if a woman wants to work.”



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