On weekday mornings in Mingora, the largest city in Swat Valley, Pakistan, the streets are filled with boys heading to school. Among them are smaller groups of schoolgirls laughing and tucking books under their arms, as they, too, head to school.
he scene highlights how far the region has come in the past few years: The Swat Valley, famed for its picturesque mountains, saw more than 400 schools destroyed – more than half of them girls’ schools – when the Taliban took control of the region in 2008.
The valley was cleared of the Taliban by a military operation in 2009, but it’s taken a while for girls to fill the schools again. Girls struggle to simply get to school in the remote mountainous region and the persistent issue of poverty remains key. The Taliban is considered a greater threat in areas that border the valley, but activists here say there’s a need to make sure girls as well as boys are educated in order to avoid a repeat of the past.
“There is a feeling [in Swat] that if we are not educated these things will happen again,” says Hazer Gul, a local activist. “The Mullahs misinformed us. They [the community] have understood that education is the key to avoiding militants.”