Feature Story: Breaking Barriers: Gul Bibi’s Quest for Education
Feature Story: Breaking Barriers: Gul Bibi’s Quest for Education
Sarfaraz Shah

In the heart of Balochistan’s Naseerabad Division lies Sohbatpur, a district beset by tribal traditions and dominated by a rigid patriarchal society. In this challenging landscape, a young girl named Gul Bibi dares to challenge the status quo and has emerged as a beacon of hope as she fights anti-women propaganda surrounding women’s education. Her quest for education is met with resistance from her family, society, and the district at large.

Chasing a Dream Amidst Obstacles

Gul Bibi, a 17-year-old girl from Sohbatpur, dreams of becoming a teacher. Her resolve is unwavering, and her commitment is unflinching, despite the numerous obstacles she faces daily. “I want to learn to read and write. Education is my passion. Being a teacher is my dream. I want to teach other girls and change their lives,” says Gul with a determined glint in her eyes.

Gul Bibi’s father, Zulfiqar Ali, reflects a common sentiment: “Education is for boys. Girls are meant to look after the household.” This traditional mindset, prioritizing male education while viewing girls’ education as redundant, is a matter of grave concern.

However, Gul Bibi’s mother, Khadija Bibi, harbours a ray of hope: “I never went to school, but I want Gul Bibi to learn. Education can change her life.” Khadija’s yearning for her daughter’s education underlines the changing aspirations within some families. However, in a society where female education is often viewed with scepticism, his support alone is not enough.

The Societal Hurdles and Patriarchal Mindset

In Sohbatpur, traditions and tribal customs dictate the roles and expectations of women. Education for girls is often deemed unnecessary. “Our tribe has always believed that a woman’s place is in the home,” explains Nabi Bakhsh Khosa, a tribal leader. Changing this mindset is not easy.

The tribal leader reinforced this mindset: “Education for girls is a waste of time and resources. They should focus on domestic duties and marry early to maintain family honour.”

Another tribal society member, Haji Malik, justified the restrictions: “We can’t allow girls to pursue education; it will lead to Westernization and corruption of our values.”

Voices of Change

Local teachers and intellectuals in Sohbatpur are also rallying for Gul’s cause. “Education is a basic human right,” says Asma, a teacher at the local school. Girls like Gul Bibi are the future of Balochistan. We must support and encourage them,” she urges.

Dr. Manzoor, a local intellectual, emphasizes the broader impact of educating girls. “An educated woman can contribute not only to her family but to society as a whole. It is essential for our development,” he stressed.

Prominent writer Jahanzaib Baloch bluntly puts it forward. “The denial of education to girls is a violation of their basic human rights. We must challenge patriarchal norms and create a supportive environment for girls to pursue their dreams.”

Islamic Perspectives on Women’s Education

Religious beliefs often play a significant role in shaping societal norms in Balochistan. Maulana Aziz ur Rehman, an Islamic scholar from the region, offers a progressive interpretation. “Gender equality in education is a moral and religious obligation. Islam promotes education for both men and women,” he states.

He articulately clarifies the anti-woman propaganda. “Islam encourages the pursuit of knowledge. Denying education to girls is against our religious teachings,” he asserts. His words can serve as a powerful tool to counter misconceptions about Islam and female education.

His perspective is slowly gaining traction among the local populace, challenging long-held misconceptions and encouraging more families to consider education for their daughters.

Political Will and Policy Initiatives

Political leaders in Balochistan have begun to acknowledge the importance of female education. “We are working to improve access to education for girls in rural areas,” says Raheela, Minister for Education. “Infrastructure development, scholarships, and community awareness programs are key to overcoming these challenges.”

Rafiullah, a policy analyst, stresses the importance of legislative support. “We need to create laws that mandate and protect the rights of girls to receive an education. It is the only way forward to ensure long-term change in terms of female education,” he asserts.

A member of the Provincial Assembly, Mr. Zahoor, stressed the importance of education in empowering women. “Education is the key to unlocking potential. We are working to introduce policies that promote gender equality in education,” he states. However, the government’s commitment to addressing these issues is a step in the right direction.

Pathways to progress

An eminent social activist, Masood Zubair, proposes solutions. “We need community awareness campaigns that highlight the benefits of girls’ education.” The combined efforts of supportive family members, dedicated educators, progressive religious leaders, and committed politicians can pave the way for meaningful change.

Masood emphasizes the importance of community involvement. “We need to work together to create a friendly and supportive environment conducive to our sisters and daughters so that they can get easy access to education,” he says.

Community awareness programs play a crucial role in changing perceptions. Highlighting the success stories of educated women and the benefits of female education can shift societal attitudes and promote social acceptance.

The Road Ahead

Gul Bibi’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the challenges faced by girls in Balochistan’s rural areas and the need for collective efforts to address the deep-rooted gender biases, misconceptions, and propaganda that hinder their access to education.

For Gul Bibi and numerous girls like her, the journey toward education is fraught with challenges and hurdles. But there are glimmers of hope. Community awareness programs and support from teachers, intellectuals, progressive religious scholars, and policymakers are slowly paving the way for a brighter future for women’s education.

Gul’s story is not just about one girl’s fight for education; it’s a testament to the resilience, determination, perseverance, and strength of countless young girls in Sohbatpur and beyond. Gul’s dream is our dream. With education, she can not only change her destiny but also the destiny of all women in Balochistan.


The writer is a freelance journalist based in Quetta