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Teachers Forum
October, 2003

Opening Doors for Girls
in Balochistan Province of Pakistan
An Interview with
Fazila Aliani,
former Provincial Minister for
Health, Education and Social Welfare
and Pioneering Female Teacher

Interview Conducted by
Seima S. Mahmud
Fazila Aliani


Mrs. Fazila Aliani, former provincial minister for Health, Education and Social Welfare is also a women's rights activist, social worker, politician, educationist and lawyer. She is the mother of two girls and currently lives in Islamabad. In this interview she talks about her experiences and contributions as a female teacher/education/political activist in an area where girls are largely excluded from education, and her vast experience as a social worker in a male dominated tribal society. Balochistan is one of the provinces of Pakistan.

Related Links on UNICEF

Accelerating Progress in Girls' Education
This document outlines a strategy for accelerating progress on Girls' Education in order to meet the goal of gender equality in primary and secondary education by 2005. This is the first credibility challenge of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals.

Barriers to Girls' Education, Strategies and Interventions
Explore such areas for analysis as direct and indirect costs, then view the possible findings / causes, broad strategies and possible interventions.

The Barriers to Education from a Gender Perspective
If we examine some of the barriers to a quality education through a gender lens, we find that for girls the hurdles are, for the most part, higher and more frequent - simply because they are girls.

5 key Dimensions of Quality Education
For UNICEF, "quality education" is characterized by 5 key dimensions, in which girls often fare very poorly.

At a glance: Pakistan
The big picture

Community commitment puts girls in school in rural Pakistan
Real lives

Community commitment puts girls in school in rural Pakistan
Photo Essay for above link

UNICEF Executive Director: "girls in South Asia cannot afford to waitÓ
UNICEF Press Release, 21 May, 2003

Statistical Data on Pakistan
from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey

The Girl Child
Discussion and resources from Voices of Youth


Fazila was born and brought up in an enlightened and literate family. Her father, Mir Noorullah Khan, a graduate of Bombay University (in present-day India) was a progressive man. He was inspired by Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, and was adamant that women must be educated and taken out of "purdah"(veil). According to Mrs. Aliani, he dedicated his life to fighting the control of the traditional Sardars (feudals) who neither allowed nor encouraged development of education in their areas and did not care about the welfare of the common man, still less woman. In such an environment, Noorullah Khan insisted on educating his daughters and taking them out of "purdah." His wife and her sister were also encouraged to step out of "purdah" and go to school. He convinced his brother to send two of his daughters to school despite strong opposition from his family.

At one point in his life, Mir Noorullah accepted the position of an administrator with the British colonial government. During his tenure as administrator, he opened girls' schools wherever he was posted, in spite of opposition from religious leaders (mullahs) who accused him of being shameless. He called Ms. Hameed Ali and Ustani Ayesha Khanum from the Education Department in Punjab to set up a girls' high school in Quetta, the provincial capital. He worked hard to eradicate poverty from his province. All his hard work and endeavours made him a very popular person in Balochistan.

Mrs. Fazila Aliani was a year old when she lost her father. While growing up she would feel his loss acutely since there was not a single visitor who would not talk about him and his contributions. From the very beginning, although he was not there physically, her father's example served to motivate her. Taking him as her role-model, she resolved to accomplish her father's unfinished mission. Her mother kept her promise to her husband to educate all five of her daughters.

After his death, Mrs. Aliani's family house became a kind of a centre for educational and vocational training. Her older sisters would give free coaching to the girls from the "mohallah"(neighborhood). When All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA) started working in Balochistan, they used one of the rooms at her house as a dispensary. Widows and orphans would come there seeking aid. All these factors influenced Mrs. Aliani to get involved in social welfare and politics.

Experience as a teacher and educationist:

After getting a degree in Bachelor of Science from a missionary school/college in Quetta, she taught for two years at the public high school in the provincial capital. Teaching English and hygiene/physiology to secondary school children proved to be a rewarding experience. She even taught elementary school children Balochi embroidery who sold their finished pieces at a local fair, enabling them to generate enough funds to buy a knitting machine for the school.

"The most rewarding experience was the way I groomed four young problematic girls to become model students. One of them was very naughty and hyper but through love, hard work and dedication, she became an example of good behaviour. Her parents came personally to thank me. Yet another girl, who could not read or speak properly, is now a doctor. I instilled confidence in her through love and giving her individual attention," she says.

Mrs. Fazila Aliani opened a co-educational institution in Quetta named after her mother-Naz Dars Jah. Although her mother was not formally educated, she wanted girls to be educated, self reliant and be independent of men. The school now has 700 hundred students. Parents of girl students specially are not required to pay any fees, although a nominal amount of Rs.250.00 is charged (about $4.50) per month. The students are from the lower and lower middle classes whose parents have never been to school. "Girls gain confidence by studying with boys." Giving an example she says: "Recently a group of boys and girls from my school came to attend an inter-school event in Islamabad. They had no female teacher to chaperone them, only the physical education teacher. Not only did they win three prizes in different events but the confidence they displayed amazed me. I could not believe they were from my school."

In 1972, an organization, Anjuman-e- Khawateen-e-Balochistan was launched by her where adult education classes were started. Also, a primary school was set up by them as well as an industrial home, cutting and sewing classes plus Balochi embroidery classes. This organization was registered on June 17th and by July 1st the same year, funds were collected from friends and family to enable drop-outs (meaning girls who were not allowed to continue their education due to family restrictions, social taboos, poverty or to stay home and help their mothers with house-hold chores) to carry on with their education.

"My teachers from the college I attended would teach these girls to prepare them for matriculation. On World Education Day, the Governor of Balochistan was given a reception, where these girls came onto the stage for the first time in their lives and spoke on education," she added.

"The major hurdle faced by girls in getting educated was and is poverty. The male child is given preference because he would be the future bread-earner for the family whereas it is taken for granted that the female child would eventually get married and leave, - so why waste money educating her?"

Another reason given by Mrs. Aliani was the objections raised by male family members and religious leaders in the community who are against girls' education. For example, she says that when her mother enrolled her and her sisters in school, she was sent a message from the local mullah (religious leader) saying," You have become a kafir (unbeliever)."

Achievements and contribution towards girl's education as a political activist:

Balochistan attained provincial autonomy and elections were held for the first time in the province in 1970. Mrs. Fazila Aliani was given a ticket to contest the elections from the National Awami Party (NAP) platform keeping her father's contributions in mind.

As the first woman member of the Balochistan Parliament in 1972, she presented resolutions in the Parliament regarding girls' education in the province. In 1976, she was appointed as the first woman provincial minister in Balochistan for Health, Education and Social Welfare. As a minister, she requested the Federal Government not to impose any restrictions on her work in Balochistan. In her official capacity, she had reserved seats in the (national) Cadet College for boys raised from six to twenty-two. The foundation for Khuzdar Engineering College and Bolan Medical College were also established during this period. Girls' schools were opened in remote areas wherever possible in a matter of days. She facilitated teachers' postings by processing their papers within a day to avoid unnecessary delays. Her Personal Assistant had standing instructions to allow any woman or student to meet her without an appointment. "Whenever they feel convenient, they should be allowed to enter my office. I would try to resolve their problems immediately whether they were financial, admissions or lack of books."

As education minister, she toured the province extensively, always encouraging students and solving their problems." I achieved a lot without doing anything outside the law." She recalls an incident when pressured by the Chief Minister of Balochistan, who was ordered by the then Prime Minister (of Pakistan) to get a girl admitted to a college, she bluntly refused to go against the very laws that she had formulated as the girl did not have the necessary requirements. The Chief Minister then showed her the Prime Minister's letter. Mrs. Aliani requested the Chief Minister's permission to reply to that letter herself.

"I wrote to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto explaining my position. I also pointed out that going against the rules would undermine the Party (NAP) and the confidence people had in me. I brought to his notice that tension was already brewing in Balochistan against the centre (Federal Government led by the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party) and if one goes against the rules in one district, the sense of deprivation would increase in other areas. There was no space to accommodate everyone." Mrs. Aliani said that the Prime Minister remembered her gesture and greatly appreciated it. In a document he wrote: "The only minister who was working properly is Mrs. Aliani."

A special seat was created for girls from the Mekran Division (a coastal area of Balochistan that is educationally and economically marginalised) in Fatima Jinnah Medical College through her efforts.

Her tenure as minister lasted only seven months as the military took over through a coup d'etat in 1977 and martial law declared. Thus she had no time to formulate any long-term policies. However, she did manage to pass a resolution in the Balochistan assembly calling for abolition of the Sardari system, although most of her colleagues in the assembly were sardars. This resolution never got a chance to become a bill as the NAP government was dissolved within the year and her party went into the opposition.

In 1979, Mrs,Aliani took part in the local body polls and was elected councillor. The credit, she says, goes to women and students with whom she interacted on a regular basis because of her social work. They ran her campaign as she neither had vehicles nor money. She competed against 27 men for seven seats.

As member of Balochistan Provincial Council, educational grants were given by the ex-provincial minister at the municipal level. She also visited schools and suggested ways of improving them.

The year 1989 saw her trying unsuccessfully to open a girls' school in the area ruled by the Bugti tribe, yet another fierce Baloch tribe. Though Nawab Bugti's government fell, the people who came after him failed to see her point of view.

"I wish I had the resources, power and money to open a girls' school there. It would have been a great achievement for the Baloch people," she says remorsefully.

During the party-less elections of 1993, she formed a women's organization by the name of Al-Nisa Women's Rights Association. "I contested from Balochistan along with six-seven other women who participated at my request. We knew we would not win but just to raise a voice-that we are here. Before launching the election campaign, I held a press conference in Islamabad where I stated that fifty percent of all seats in the national and provincial assemblies, local bodies and in educational institutions should go to women. This is on record. We said it first," she adds proudly. Also, fifty percent of development funds should be spent on women's upliftment, she demanded.

"It was at the back of my mind that even if we lose, Al-Nisa would continue to serve the interests of Balochi women and others elsewhere, Mrs. Aliani stated.

Mrs. Aliani's social work enabled her to get to the grass-root level. While touring Balochistan in connection with a conference on the meaning of social welfare in developing countries, she was able to get the men belonging to these remote areas to pay attention to her. Fazila Aliani would motivate them by telling them the reason that she could do things for them was because she was educated. The lack of infrastructure such as roads etc. was and is a major impediment to spreading education in the province. During one such tour, the former minister inaugurated a girls' school in an area ruled by the ferocious Marri tribe, where women are not to be seen, let alone heard. Since there was no road, she had to fly down there in an army helicopter. This was the time when the Pakistan army was putting down an insurgency in the tribal areas. No other minister dared to venture into that area. Mrs. Aliani, with true grit and spirit had the courage to hold a public rally and address the Marri tribesmen who were involved in the uprising/insurgency.

Explaining her attitude towards being a female in a traditional male dominated society, she said that her early childhood training and her lack of fear of men plus her personal strengths made it simpler for her. "I have never been afraid of men," she stated emphatically.

The work she did as a Member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) and outside the assembly, speaking for the rights of Balochi men and women and oppressed people in general gave the common people confidence in her. Being the only woman politician in the provincial assembly at the time, Mrs. Aliani would wear a burkha (traditional veil) through which not even her eyes would show. The day she was sworn in as an MPA was the day she took off the burkha and wore a Balochi chador (a shawl). Gradually other Baloch women in society also replaced the burkha for a chador.


Message for teachers:

Asked on what message she would want to share with teachers on International Teachers' Day, she said: "Teachers should work hard and create an environment where student/teacher rapport could develop. They should teach with love and pay attention to the individual need of the child. But most of all, they must build up confidence in the child through love and understanding."

Previous Related Interviews

"Multiple Intelligences in Pakistan"
   December, 2002

"Not Accepting that Girls Should Feel Inferior in Senegal"
  - August, 2000

"Early Marriage and Girls' Education in Ethiopia"
  - October, 2002

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Last revised October 1, 2003
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