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Pakistani mother enrolls in first grade

By Reza Sayah, CNN
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Mother enrolls in first grade
  • A 25-year-old mother of three enrolls in school with children
  • Only four in 10 Pakistani women can read and write
  • Girls face increasing Taliban violence against education
  • Hard-line groups say women's education is un-Islamic
  • Pakistan
  • The Taliban

Daudkhel, Pakistan (CNN) -- Rukhsana Batool doesn't quite look like her fellow first graders at an elementary school in this village in northwest Pakistan.

Batool towers over the rest of the children, she is covered in a white burqa - the full length Islamic veil- and she is a 25-year-old married mother of three.

"I love it here," she said from behind the patch of burqa netting that covered her face. "I used to bring my children to school and I saw them studying. I thought I really want to study and learn too."

Last month a teacher at the school encouraged her to enroll. Batool's parents had never allowed her to go to school. It's something she always dreamed of doing, so she agreed to sign up.

Now, when the school bell rings, she walks into class and sits next to her two favorite classmates - her two sons, age 4 and 5.

"She was interested in studying and I welcomed that," said her teacher Murred Fizza. "I told her I would teach her even if it meant working during my break time."

Batool gave credit to her husband who encouraged her to go to school in a country where women's education has long suffered because of social and cultural limitations, and the spread of extremism.

Hard-line religious groups here say women's education is un-Islamic and frequently warn families not to send their girls to school once they reach puberty.

The Taliban have bombed and set fire to hundreds of schools, most of them for girls, just a few hours from where Batool lives.

The Pakistani government is nowhere near rebuilding them.

Even in some of Pakistan's more moderate rural areas parents often refuse to send their daughters to school with boys. Millions of teenage girls end up working at home or getting married.

Recent studies show only four out of 10 Pakistani women can read and write -- a literacy rate that ranks among the worst in the world.

"One of the main solutions to all the issues we have in this country is the education of women," said Fizza, Batool's teacher. "I think if one woman is educated, her entire family will be educated."

Batool hopes her enrollment in first grade inspires other Pakistani women to go to school and for Pakistan's government to invest more in women's education.