Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

December 12, 2012

When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school — an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban had said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story — as well as her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death — has captivated the world and made her into an international icon for girls’ education.

Around 35 million girls across the world do not go to primary school compared to 31 million boys, says the World Bank.

The reasons are vast and varied but often stem from a combination of poverty and patriarchal customs such as child marriage in regions such South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where three-quarters of the world’s out-of-school girls live.


But Malala, who is recovering well in a Birmingham hospital, has not just become the poster girl for these millions of girls — but for many more.

Over 260 million people have signed an online petition calling for Malala, to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. These include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Indian minister Shashi Tharoor and Bangladeshi writer and feminist Taslima Nasreen.

The United Nations has named Nov 10 as “Malala Day” to show the world that people of all creeds, sexes, backgrounds and countries stand behind the Pakistani teenager.

The Pakistani government, together with World Bank and Britain, have started a new program to fund 3 million poor children to go to school by providing impoverished families with a monthly stipend of $2 for each child.

And over the weekend, the Pakistan with the U.N., launched a new plan dubbed the “Malala Plan” to motivate girls around the world to enroll in school by 2015. The plan, with initial funding of $10 million pledged by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, aims to use advocacy and campaigns to encourage the need for schooling for the children across the world.

Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and now U.N. special envoy for global education, says Malala’s birthday, July 12, will be designated a day of action — when children around the world are invited to march, demonstrate, petition and pray for education to be delivered worldwide.

To boost the effort, Brown on Monday appointed Malala’s father  Ziauddin Yousafzai — a former teacher and headmaster — as his education advisor for the “Malala Plan”.

“Before she was shot, Malala was advocating the cause of girls’ education faced by a Taliban that had closed down and destroyed 600 schools,” said Brown.

“If the Taliban sought to vanquish her voice once and for all, they failed. For today, her voice and her insistent dream that children should go to school echoes all around the world, as girl after girl, each wanting all girls to have the right to go to school, identifies with Malala.”


PHOTO CAPTION: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai reads a card as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout

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