On October 9th, a fifteen year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot three times in the head while she was returning home on a school bus. The Taliban quickly took credit for the attack, and threatened if she survived, they would attempt to kill her again. Malala’s “crime” was advocating for girls to go to school. She lives in a part of the world where women are considered inferior to men. Their forced lack of knowledge serves as a barrier to women’s rights and Malala was determined to change that.
Malala is not alone. 32 million girls are denied education worldwide, simply on the basis of their gender. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Education is a fundamental human right. It is a pathway to development, tolerance and global citizenship.” Malala was 11 when she started documenting how difficult it was to get an education, because of the Taliban, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley on an anonymous blog published by BBC Urdu. She wrote, “I dreamt of a country where education would prevail.” The blog slowly gained international attention, but also the attention of the Taliban, which led to the shooting.
Malala survived the attack and is recovering in Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Birmingham in the U.K, and is more determined than ever to continue her battle for girls’ education. According to reports, on October 25, Malala asked her father to bring her books and promised she would return to Pakistan after she recovered, despite the threats she still faces from the Taliban. Similar sentiments are reflected in Malala’s classmates. Shazia Ramzan, a thirteen year old who was also shot on the bus, spent a month in hospital, but she said the attempted assasination made it more important than ever to go to school. She said, “The shooting tried to stop us from getting an education — it was our test and we must pass it.”
In the face of Malala’s determination and courage, many are calling for her to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Shahida Choudhary. who is campaigning for Malala to receive the award said: “Malala doesn’t just represent one young woman, she speaks out for all those who are denied an education purely on the basis of their gender. There are girls like Malala in the UK and across the world.” The petition to nominate Malala has the support of more than 60,000 people and is gaining more supporters every day. Additionally, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his role as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, declared November 10th “Malala Day” and a global day of action. On this day, Brown traveled to Pakistan and presented the president with a petition with more than one million signatures, which asks him to make education available to all children, regardless of their gender. Pakistan also plans to honor Malala by opening special “Malala Schools” in her honor in 16 conflict-ridden areas around the country.
Although Malala’s shooting was a tragedy, it has brought much-needed attention to the situation of girls not only in Pakistan, but also the millions around the world who are denied an education. She has survived and vows to return stronger than ever to face the obstacles that lie in her path and in those of girls across the globe.
Update 1/10/13: Malala was discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Thursday, January 3rd and is rehabilitating at a temporary home in England with her family. The hospital’s medical director , Dr. Dave Rosser, said that “Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery,”. She still needs reconstructive surgery on her skull in the coming weeks, but for now the medical team caring for her decided she would benefit the most from being at home. Remarkable progress is shown considering she entered the hospital a few months ago with a slim chance for survival and was able to walk out on her own with a smile on her face. Her father accepted a three-year possition as education attaché at the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham, meaning that for a few years at least, Malala and her family will remain in the UK.