Malala Yousufzai

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(12 July 1997 – )

On 9 October  2012, 14 year old Pakistani school girl Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunman, targeted because she publicly promoted education for girls. She was returning from school in the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley of Pakistan when two gunmen flagged down her school bus and fired on Malala and two other children. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, stated to the BBC Urdu service that the attack was justified because Malala “promoted secularism.”  He said that if survives this attack she will continue to be targeted.

From Status of Women Canada

Malala’s father has always been a strong supporter of his daughter and education for girls more generally and he ran own private school for girls. Malala’s own advocacy of education for girls started at age 11, when she began writing a blog for BBC Urdu under the pseudonym Gul Makai. The blog detailed her life in Taliban-controlled Pakistan, where the threat of violence was common and the simple act of attending school took a daily act of courage.  Malala’s blog entries often talk about her fear that she would not be able to continue to attend because of Taliban.

After the Taliban were driven from the Swat Valley in 2009, her identity was revealed and she won a national award for bravery in Pakistan. Malala says that the government recognition has inspired her, and she hopes one day to help her people by going into politics. But perhaps Malala’s greatest show of commitment to education for girls is the fact that despite the international attention and demands on her time, she has continued to attend school.

Within Pakistan, government officials immediately condemned the attack;  rallies and public vigils were held in her name while schools across Pakistan shut their doors to hold vigils. The international response was also swift with diverse expressions of support including from, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But writer Halima Mansour of the Guardian UK says “Malala doesn’t want to play to some western-backed or Taliban-loved stereotype. She shows us that there are voices out there, in Pakistan, that need to be heard, if only to help the country find democracy that is for and from the people, all the people.”

Unfortunately, Malala’s story is not unique. It is an especially egregious example of a larger global problem of discrimination against women and girls. Of the 110 million of the world’s children not in school in 2012, 60% are girls. By age 18, girls receive on average 4.4 years less education than boys.[1]  Lack of access to education has been linked to higher maternal and infant mortality, increased experience of domestic violence, lower economic prosperity, and reduced political opportunity[2] It is widely recognized that one of the best indicators of national peace and security is the condition of women and girls.[3] Yet, despite many promises to the contrary by governments and efforts by international organizations such as the UN, gender discrimination in education remains commonplace globally.

While some might dismiss Malala’s story as an extreme example of terrorism, it provides a critical reminder of global struggles for gender equality and the penalties  sometimes paid for resisting the pervasive inequalities. For example, Indigenous women in Canada have lower income and educational levels than the national average and such disadvantage is linked to their similarly greater experience of violence and higher rates of incarceration.[4]  The link between lack of opportunity, systemic violence and discrimination is not always acknowledged even by those with a mandate to serve. Thus, even as the world condemns the attack on Malala, every jurisdiction needs to consider its own record. Most are at best uneven.

Education, as Mary Wollstonecraft and other feminists have long argued, is a crucial step in securing women’s rights. Malala’s choice to attend school, and stand up for the right of girls to do so, is aligned with a long history of global struggles demanding a equal opportunities for girls and women.  The Taliban are right to fear the voice and actions of one teenage girl. And the world has a responsibility to listen and respond to the struggles of girls globally.


[2] Fancy, Khadijah. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2012. Graphicom, Italy, 2012

[3] http://www.womanstats.org/

[4] Aleem, R., Czapska, A., Taefi, N., & Webb, A. (2008). Submission to UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women at its 7th periodic review of Canada. Justice for Girls & Justice for Girls International

 

Malala’s blog

BBC. (2009). Diary of a Pakistani School Girl. Retrieved October 14, 2012, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7834402.stm

Opinion Pieces

Chemaly, S. (2012, October 12). Sex and World Peace: or, What Little Girls Have to Do with Our Wars. Huffington Post.

Dobson, W. J. (2012, October 12). Why the Taliban fears teenage girls. Canberra Times.

Ellick, A. B. (2012). My “Small Video Star” fights for her life. The Lede- New York Times.

Ijaz, S. (2012, October 12). We are not Malala. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/451119/we-are-not-malala/

Kristof, N. D. (2012, October 10). Her “Crime” was loving school. New York Times.

Mansoor, H. (2012, October 10). Malala Yousafzai: a young Pakistani heroine. Guardian UK. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/10/malala-yousafzai-young-pakistani-heroine

Walker, R. (2012, October 11). Malala and the First International Day of the Girl. Huffington Post.

The Documentary featuring Malala:

Ellick, A. (2009). Witness: A Schoolgirl’s Odyssey. Al Jazeera English. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2010/01/201012884237639104.html

Academic Sources:

Aleem, R., Czapaska, A., Taefi, N., & Webb, A. (2008). Submission to UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Wome at its 7th periodic review of Canada.

Babur, Zaheer Udin, “Violence Against Women in Pakistan: Current Realities and Strategies for Change,” M.A diss., European University Center for Peace Studies, 2007 http://epu.ac.at/fileadmin/downloads/research/Babur.pdf

Fancy, Khadijah. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2012. Graphicom, Italy, 2012

Hudson, V. M., Ballif-Spanvill, B., Caprioli, M., & Emmet, C. F. (2012). Sex and World Peace. New York: Columbia University Press.

United Nations Cyberschoolbus. (2012). Girl Child. Briefing Papers for Students. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/briefing/girl/index.htm

Woman Stats Project. (2012). Woman Stats Project. Retrieved from womanstats.org