Nur came to the academy by way of Mandi Bahauddin, a small and old-fashioned town in the central province of Punjab, where horse-driven carts still outnumber cars, and where girls have no place to continue their education past high school. When Nur was 16 years old, her father moved the family to Rawalpindi, a larger city near Islamabad, where she could stay in school. Her plight was not unusual: Of all countries in the world, Pakistan has the second-largest number of children without access to schools -- 5.4 million -- which includes 75 percent of primary-school-age girls. Most women have trouble finding jobs, and many are pushed into becoming teachers or housewives.
By joining the military, Nur and the other female cadets have guaranteed themselves employment for at least the next seven years, the required term of service.
Yet this is a bittersweet victory, as being a woman comes with difficulties outside of school and within it. Case in point: Bilal, a male cadet who will graduate with Nur and who did not give his last name, said he would never marry a female soldier. “I would prefer if she were interested in something else,” he said. “Someone has to look after the children.”
But Nur doesn’t mind such comments. Already past the national average age of marriage, she has no interest in becoming a housewife. She prefers the discipline of the army, and, she'll admit with a smile, she’s partial to the uniform.