Bilquis Rafiq’s family is unusual for the village and the part of Pakistan where they live: each of her three children – two boys and a girl- are in school. The family can afford to pay the school fees for all their children because Bilquis has been earning a living from Popinjay, a for-profit social impact oriented enterprise that makes high-end handbags for sale in Pakistan and the USA.
In a country where the education system provides few affordable options for families living on little, many Pakistanis choose to send their children to foreign-funded madrassas – or religious schools- which offer to feed and house as well as educate their students, at little or no cost. The madrassas however are notorious for the highly conservative, often extreme religious doctrines they transmit to their students, and the link between the madrassa system and recruitment of insurgent fighters in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is well-known. Without the madrassas, many households in rural areas don’t even have a realistic option for sending their children to school.