On October 9th 2012 – less than one year ago – Malala Yousafzai, then a fifteen year old Pakistani girl, was shot by the Taliban when she was on her way to do what girls and boys her age are supposed to do – to go to school, to learn, and to get an education. For some, educating girls and women is a threat. It is a threat to the status quo, and to existing patriarchal norms and practices that place girls and women below men and boys in societies. Educating girls and women is seen as a threat for a simple reason:
Because there is no single force in the world that is stronger than the power and capabilities of an educated girl.
Today, on her 16th birthday, Malala stood up in the United Nations General Assembly Hall to call on governments, societies, families and individuals to deliver on their commitments and promises to the girls – and boys – around the world, and ensure that every single child has access to free and compulsory primary education. I was present at the speech, and watched her voice resonate not only with the youth from around the world who took over the General Assembly on this special day, but with every single person in the room.
Her strongest message was a message of peace, tolerance and incredible bravery. Her voice without a sign of uncertainty, Malala declared that her call and her commitment is for all children – including the sons and daughters of the Taliban – and through her speech, demonstrated such strength and such forgiveness, that the rest of us can only aspire to one day reach even close to her level.
Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
Being shot did not make Malala an inspiration or a hero – she was an incredible person and a role model before the Taliban tried to silence her. While her voice is stronger than anyone else’s, and reaches further than we can imagine, it is also important to remember that Malala is also a child – and her own rights, as an individual, as a girl, and as a child, must not be forgotten as she becomes the beacon of girls’ and women’s education around the world. There is no doubt about her capabilities, and the endless strength she possesses – but at the same time, we should not make her into a tool or a product of something we deem “greater” or “bigger.” Malala deserves all of our attention, our help, our support, but most importantly she deserves our respect. In the midst of all this attention on her, I think those things are also important to keep in mind.
Malala is a girl who was prevented from fulfilling her true potential because of discriminatory, patriarchal practices and beliefs. She is the Girl who could not go to school because she is female, the Girl who lived under threat of violence largely because of her gender, the Girl who is expected to stay silent and bow her head because some people view her as inferior to men. She is the Girl we all need to remember tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after – on every single day, not just today, not just now. On October 11th – two days after the anniversary of her shooting – the world will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. For Malala, and for others like her, we need to make every day the Day of the Girl. We need to teach our sons and daughters to believe in an equal world, teach our students to value human life the same, despite gender, age, race, ethnicity, age. We can all can catalyze a change in this world towards a reality where no girl has to fight the kinds of wars Malala fought, and no child has to lose their life because we, as societies, failed to protect them. Gender discrimination cannot be eliminated without a collective effort to truly change the way we see girls and women, and teach the generations to come to behave differently and to hold different kinds of values and norms – the kind that support and promote full gender equality, and accept nothing less as success.
Malala is nothing but a hero. She is the incarnation of why the fight for girls’ rights is so terribly important. She is a role model to not only girls, but to boys, women, and men. There cannot be any more Malalas, and children cannot be left to fight these wars anymore. There is no more time to wait for progress or change to happen – it has to happen now, and it has to start with all of us. Every day should be the Day of the Girl, because Malala, and all the other girls in the world, deserve nothing less. Malala is raising the bar for all of us, and it has never been raised higher – now it’s time for us, as societies, as individuals, to rise to the challenge.
I raise my hand, and my voice, for Malala and for Girls’ Education. Will you join me?
- Malala’s full speech, delivered at the United Nations General Assembly on her 16th Birthday
- Stand With Malala – Sign the Petition!
- Girls’ Globe Storify of Malala Day
- Watch Malala’s speech in full
- Check out Girls’ Globe visual post about Malala Day, and Girls’ Globe blogger Elisabeth’s post about why she raises her hand for girls’ education
- Sign the Avaaz petition to urge leaders and decision makers to ensure that all children are in school – as promised – by the end of 2015!