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Canada's First Female Pashtun Senator Seeks To Improve Women's Lives

In Pakistan, many are opposed to girls receiving education.
In Pakistan, many are opposed to girls receiving education.
The first Pashtun woman to serve in the Canadian Parliament says she is concerned about the plight of women in her home country of Pakistan, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Salma Attaullahjan told Radio Mashaal on July 20 that she is troubled by the difficulties faced by ethnic Pashtun women seeking an education in Pakistan.

"The only thing that disturbs me is why the schools are being destroyed in the areas inhabited by Pashtuns, and why very few girls and women go out of their houses to study or work," Attaullahjan said.

"I am shocked to see people speaking against a girl's education or [people] stopping them from going to school," she added.

Attaullahjan, 58, has lived in Toronto for 31 years. She became a Canadian citizen in 1989 and worked as a real estate agent for 21 years. She was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week.

Attaullahjan has served as president of the Canadian Pashtun Cultural Association.

She helped raise funds for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province after she joined Canada's Conservative Party. Attaullahjan has also visited IDP camps in Pakistan with members of the Canadian Parliament.

Born and raised in the city of Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Attaullahjan has received strong support since entering Canadian politics. "People really cooperated after coming to know that I'm a Pashtun woman," she recalled.

A mother of two, Attaullahjan said she wants to work to create an awareness for the importance of girls' education and equal rights for women.

Attaullahjan is a member of the family of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or Bacha Khan, the Pashtun nationalist leader and founder of Pakistan's secular Awami National Party.