“We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” –Malala Yousafzai.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you probably already know about Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl of Pashtun ethnicity, who was intentionally shot in the head last October, as she made her way home from school on a school bus. The bullet went through her head and neck, and lodged in her shoulder.
Malala was only 11 or 12 in 2009, when she wrote a blog, under a pseudonym, for the BBC which detailed her life under Taliban rule and her views on education for girls. The following summer, the New York Times filmed a documentary about her life. She gave interviews in print and on TV, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. (Someone else won that award.) Before she was shot, she was also awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani. (This award was renamed the National Malala Peace Prize in her honor after she was shot.) At the award ceremony, Malala said that, although she was not a member of any political party, she hoped to found a national party of her own to promote education. The prime minister set up an IT campus in the Swat Degree College for Women, at Malala’s request. A secondary school was also named after Malala. By 2012, Malala was planning to organize the Malala Education Foundation. The Malala Fund has in fact been set up, and you can donate to the fund by clicking on the link. This fund specifically seeks to help poor girls go to school.
It is obvious why the Taliban wanted to get rid of her.
Right after the attack, Malala was unconscious and in critical condition, but her condition was stabilized enough for her to be flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for rehabilitation. A video clip of Malala addressing the United Nations not long ago bears witness to the fact that the medical team there has done a fantastic job of assisting Malala in her recovery. (She is still undergoing rehabilitation.)
Although 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā, a legal ruling, against the people who tried to kill Malala, the Taliban remained without remorse, stating its intent to kill not only Malala, but also her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is a poet, the owner of a school, and an educational activist.
It seems obvious that Malalais one of those people who came into this life for a purpose in order to have an effect on those around her, and she seems to be fulfilling that purpose brilliantly. She has a real gift for powerful oratory, far beyond that of an ordinary 16-year-0ld. She is also incredibly poised. A German journalist opined that she may have become the most famous teenager in the world. U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, who is also former Prime Minister of the U.K., launched a petition in Malala’s name, using the slogan, “I am Malala.” The petition seeks to have all children enrolled in school by the end of 2015. All over the web, there are video clips of school kids from around the world, all shouting, “I am Malala!”
Educating girls is one of the most important things we can do to improve the conditions of life everywhere in the world. Marie Arana, writing a book review about Malala’s memoir that has just been published, had this to say about the education of women.
Ask social scientists how to end global poverty, and they will tell you: Educate girls. Capture them in that fleeting window between the ages of 10 and 14, give them an education, and watch a community change: Per capita income goes up, infant mortality goes down, the rate of economic growth increases, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection falls. Child marriage becomes less common, as does child labor. Educated mothers tend to educate their children. They tend to be more frugal with family money. Last year, the World Bank reckoned that Kenya’s illiterate girls, if educated, could boost that country’s economy by $27 billion in the course of a lifetime.
Whether an emerging nation likes it or not, its girls are its greatest resource. Educating them, as economist Lawrence Summers once said, “may be the single highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
Malala’s memoir, written with British journalist Christina Lamb, was published on October 8 of this year in the United States and 21 other countries. I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Although Malala was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (and the youngest person ever so nominated),someone else won, and the Taliban did not bother to conceal their delight. However, she has been awarded The Sakharov Prize for free speech by the European Parliament, which is considered Europe’s top human rights award. Just the other day, Malala visited the White House, where she met President Obama, the First Lady, and their older daughter, Malia, who is one year younger than Malala. At the meeting, the President signed a proclamation declaring October 11 as International Day of the Girl. This year’s theme is “innovating for girls’ education.” ABC’s Diane Sawyer interviewed Malala for a 20/20 special, entitled, “Unbreakable,” which aired on October 11. You can read about and see that interview here and here.
In spite of the honors she has received, reaction to Malala has been mixed in Pakistan, where some conspiracy theorists insist that the shooting was masterminded by the American C.I.A., and Malala has been accused of being a C.I.A. spy. Although the gunman who shot Malala has been identified by police, he remains at large. News columnist Huma Yusuf pointed out that Malala’s fame “highlights Pakistan’s most negative aspect (rampant militancy); her education campaign echoes Western agendas; and the West’s admiration of her is hypocritical because it overlooks the plight of other innocent victims, like the casualties of U.S. drone strikes.” Journalist Assed Baig said that Malala is being used to justify Western imperialism as “the perfect candidate for the white man to relieve his burden and save the native.”
Malala and her family now live in Birmingham, England, where she attends school. She hopes someday to return to Pakistan to make a difference in the lives of her people. 🙂