Introducing Malala

Photo from abcnews.com

Welcome, Dearest Reader!

You are truly in for a treat. I do not say this because I boast of my own writing or storytelling abilities. Rather, I am excited for us to take a journey together around the world to meet some of the people who are working to improve the lives of women and girls. A better world for them is a better world for us all.

This first series of blog posts will focus on a very special young lady named, Malala Yousafzai. It is my hope that you fall in love with her and her story as much as I did. May we also be inspired to take action on her behalf– and all of the others girls just like her.

Why Malala?

When the news broke that the Taliban had shot a young girl because of her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan, I wanted to know more about her. I had to know more. My initial questions included:

Who is she? What is her story? How can a 15-year-old be such a threat to the Taliban that it warranted shooting her? How did she become such a threat? What does her family think of her advocacy and desire for education? What is the government doing about it? What about the international community at large, including the United Nations (UN) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)?

These are the questions that guided my research into her life—and resulted in hours of reading academic journals, newspaper articles, various reports, and watching videos. I did my best to immerse myself in her world in order to better understand her and to make sure that I gave her story the dignity that it deserves.

What I have compiled here is the “tip of the iceberg” of the reality of girls’ education in Pakistan. This post will focus on introducing the macro (“big picture”) issue of educational adversity for Pakistani girls. This backdrop will be important for better understanding  the specifics of Malala’s story, which we will look at more closely next week.

The Problem

“From January 15 [2009], girls will not be allowed to attend schools” (Khan 2009). 1  This was a radio address transmitted by the Taliban’s second in command in Swat Valley, Mullah Shah Doran. In the midst of an already violent and adversarial climate, this radio address was disheartening news, especially for the Yousafzai family. Malala’s father, Ziauddin, had dedicated over a decade to educating girls. He summarized the issue this way, “In the area where I live, there are some people who want to stop educating girls with guns” (Ellick 2009). 2

This announcement came on the heels of an already diminishing female enrollment. In 2006 and 2007, more than 30 percent of girls had dropped out as a result of the radio broadcasts of militant Taliban leaders; half of the remaining girls dropped out or could not go to school because of the subsequent attacks on their schools and colleges (Khan 2009). 1

The most recent reports from Unicef and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have shown that the problem of girls’ education in Pakistan persists. Pakistan has the second largest population of children out of school—approximately 5.1 million (Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work  2012, 9). 3  On average, the poorest Pakistani girls are educated three years less than their male classmates and one year less in urban areas (Children in an Urban World  2012, 7). 4

Why is Education for Girls so Important?

In 1989, the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) established education as a basic human right. Article 28 recognized the right of every child to primary education and accessibility to secondary and higher education (Convention on the Rights of the Child  1989, 13). 5  Fundamentally, girls’ education is a human rights issue.

Research since 1989 has indicated it is not only a matter of human rights, but economic welfare as well. This type of investment in girls is considered to be profitable by those in the global community– ranging from leaders at the World Economic Forum and World Bank as well as prominent businesspeople (Murphy, Belmonte, and Nelson 2009, 4). 6  The return on investment is proving to be significant and to have far reaching effects. Today’s girls will shape the competitiveness of tomorrow’s labor force (Levine et al. 2008, 1). 7

UNESCO statistics show that Pakistani women with a high level of literacy earned 95% more than women with no literacy skills; the differential for men was only 33% (Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work  2012, 17). 3  Pakistan’s future economic growth hinges on how well it can utilize the female work force during its productive age (Levine et al. 2008, 1). 7  When girls are denied access to education and skill building, girls are not the only ones who are disadvantaged.

What is good for Pakistani girls is good for everyone in Pakistan.

Until Next Time…

This was merely a snapshot of the “who” and the “what” questions concerning Malala’s story. I hope this post whet your appetite to learn more! Next week’s post will focus on “how” and “why” she became a notorious target for the Taliban. Our understanding of all of these questions will serve to inform us on how we can best aid Malala in her fight for educational equality in Pakistan.

  1. Khan, Nasir. 2009. Taliban Bans Education for Girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Washington Times, January 2, 2009 [] []
  2. Ellick, Adam B. 2009. Class Dismissed. The New York Times []
  3. Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work. 2012. In The EFA Global Monitoring Report, edited by P. Rose. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [] []
  4. Children in an Urban World. 2012. In State of the World’s Children, edited by A. Aslam and J. Szczuka. New York: Unicef []
  5. Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1989. United Nations []
  6. Murphy, Shannon, Wivinia Belmonte, and Jane Nelson. 2009. Investing in Girls’ Education: An Opportunity for Corporate Leadership. Cambridge: Harvard Kennedy School []
  7. Levine, Ruth, Cynthia Lloyd, Margaret Greene, and Caren. 2008. Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda. Washington D.C.: Center for Global Development [] []