With the wanton destruction of over 200 girls' schools in the restive Swat Valley, women once again become the targets of obscurantist wrath. Too frightened to attend school in fear of being killed, young girls are forced to stay indoors. Though relative calm has returned to the Swat Valley after the acceptance of a controversial peace deal and the imposition of Sharia law, the restoration of the decimated schools requires urgent action. Even though some girls' schools have been reopened, the attendance rate is an abysmal 40 percent largely owing to fear of further attacks. This policy of intimidation has severely compromised education for girls and is particularly lamentable as historically Swat set an exemplary precedent with its sustained and committed investment in education. The first Wali of Swat, Miangul Gulshahzada Sir Abdul Wadood, popularly known as Badshah Sahib, built the first girls' school in 1933 in Saidu Sharif, the capital of Swat. Education for boys and girls was compulsory and the scenic Swat Valley gained renown as a peaceful and progressive valley with a flourishing school system. Forbidding girls from receiving education is just another brute tactic to disseminate fear and attain control. Without education, girls will be limited, ignorant, malleable and highly exploitable. Depriving them of education is effectively robbing them of awareness, independence and critical life skills. They will remain lambs for the slaughter, wholly dispensable, as grimly witnessed with the burial of women in Balochistan and recently in Sindh where a woman was fed to the dogs. According to the Pakistan Social & Living Standards Measurement Survey, the literacy and primary school enrolment rates in Pakistan have shown improvement during last five years but they are still low compared with other countries in the region. A number of studies of the education system in Pakistan have revealed that the quality of education being provided by government primary schools is poor with many schools lacking adequate teachers and resources. The profound injustice of denying girls an education and excluding them from decision-making processes in economic, social and political spheres is endemic in Pakistan. The crusade to improve Pakistan's abysmal literacy rates must be embraced wholeheartedly. Mehnaz Aziz's exemplary work in the field of education through the Children's Global Network must be applauded, encouraged and emulated. Rather than building new schools CGN raises education standards in existing schools to international levels by enhancing teachers' pedagogical skills. Her devotion to the cause of education is reaping manifest rewards particularly in areas like Sibbi, Vehari, Mianwali, Bannu Khushab, Hyderabad and the earthquake hit areas of Muzzafarabad, Rawalakot and Bagh. Appalled at the destruction of schools in Swat, Mehnaz provides a soberly realistic assessment of the consequences of denying Pakistani girls an education, emphasising the urgent need to take action: "By destroying girls' schools and stopping girls from being educated, we have sealed the fate of future generations of Swat and have started an irreversible process of ignorance and severance from global connectedness. In the absence of educated mothers, we will have an illiterate nation. "Balochistan is another area that has been completely ignored as far as education is concerned. Schools remain closed in the absence of teachers...the province is starved of attention and any real social development initiatives. Time is short so we need to alter the strategy on the ground before it is too late in NWFP." When asked about what inspired her, she spoke of becoming a mother and how she felt angry that her child had access to quality education, while other children were effectively precluded from receiving any sort of formal education. Mehnaz also spoke of the mounting fear and insecurity felt by the elite who continue to erect higher walls to keep out the unruly uneducated mob terrorising cities with crime and violence. Mehnaz does not view this as a viable solution; instead she proposes to break the walls down, educate people, arm them with knowledge and opportunities to brighten their prospects for social and economic ascendancy. Low literacy rates, unemployment and poverty will only build up the seething anger and sense of alienation felt by a huge swathe of Pakistan's population. The comprehensive failure of successive governments to deliver on education means that more private-sector initiatives like Imran Khan's outstanding NAML College in Mianwali need to be established on a priority basis. At present, schools are too few and woefully under-resourced making Pakistan's literacy levels among the lowest in South Asia. As the religious parties continue to gain ground in Pakistan, it would be instructive to remind them of the high premium that Islam places on acquiring knowledge, encouraging discovery, innovation and rational enquiry. Angel Gabriel's first pronouncement from God to Prophet Muhammad (May God's blessings and Peace Be Upon Him) was Iqra: "Read". Until the destroyed schools are reconstructed, the government must provide alternative educational facilities to the children of Swat. As long as education continues to flounder on the margins of public debate, women will remain easy prey as retrogressive notions of honour which effectively endorse cruelty against women continue to hold sway. As successive governments continue to flagrantly disregard education, particularly in budget allocations, Pakistan's shameful catalogue of violence against women will remain an ominous reality where women are subjects of abuse, violence and exploitation, too often without redress or the hope of protection, deepening their disenfranchisement. The writer is a freelance columnist