At a revolutionary school in Pakistan, Durkhanay Banuri dreams of becoming military chief, once a mission impossible for girls in a patriarchal country where the powerful army has a severe problem with gender equity.
Thirteen-year-old Durkhanay, a student at Pakistan’s first ever Girls’ Cadet College, established earlier this year in the deeply conservative northwest, brims with enthusiasm and confidence as she sketches out her life plan.
“I want to be the army chief,” she tells AFP. “Why not? When a woman can be prime minister, foreign minister and governor of the State Bank, she can also be chief of the army staff … I will make it possible and you will see.”
The dreams of many women in the region were once limited to merely leaving the house.
Durkhanay and her 70 classmates in Mardan, a town in militancy-hit Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) province roughly 70 miles from Islamabad, are aiming much higher.
Cadet colleges in Pakistan, which are run by the government with officers from the military’s education branch, strive to prepare bright male students for the armed forces and civil services.
Their graduates are usually given preference for selection to the army, which in Pakistan can mean their future is secured: they are likely to be granted land and will benefit from the best resources and training in the country.
As a result, such colleges play an outsized role in Pakistan’s education system, which has been woefully underfunded for decades.