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Pakistan has found a new cause to fight for – girls’ education rights. The people of Pakistan have been intimidated and suppressed for long time under the Pakistan Taliban. But Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year old girl, has the courage and determination to stand up to them. Her BBC Diaries shook the rest of the world when the story of her struggle and fears came to light.
She was an ordinary girl. Unintentionally, under their brutal control, the Taliban have made Malala a global icon of peace. November 10 was declared Malala Day and the Global Day of Action for Malala campaign began. A petition was signed by citizens of over 100 countries in support of Malala and her fight for girls’ education rights.
Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari announced a new program, “Waseela-e-Taleem”, under which the three million poor children who are out of school in Pakistan will help their families financially in a small way. Families will be paid $2 a month if their child is in school. The deadline for revamping Pakistan’s education system and ensuring that every girl and boy will go to school is 2015. The Accelerated Millennium Development Goal Framework process will allow Pakistan to assess the state of its current education system and develop strategies, in consultation with international organizations, to overcome roadblocks, leading the country on the path of prosperity.
The Taliban’s attack on Malala on October 9, 2012 seems to have woken up Pakistan’s people, who live in fear each day, and the global millions who are outraged at the country’s inaction against the culprits. Malala is one girl in Pakistan who still has the fire to pursue her cause. But the country needs many more girls like her. “Thousands of Malalas are needed to lead the country to progress.”
Educating the nation’s 3 million poor is a long-term commitment and one that requires strict enforcement. Can Pakistan’s politicians deliver on their promise? Where “parts of Pakistan are among the most dangerous places in the world to go to school today”, the issue is not only about protecting Pakistan’s girls but also investing much more in the country’s education system. Ziauddin Yousufzai, Malala’s father, actively supports his daughter in her fight for an education. But how many men in Pakistan can speak up for their wives’ and daughters’ rights without a trace of fear in their eyes? Can the men understand that opportunities have to be equal for the men and women; that women are not second-class citizens? In an Islamic country that places religion and tradition above everything else, can women get their rights?
Gordon Brown says, “No bombs, bullets, threats or intimidation can deter the international community, working in partnership with Pakistan, to ensure we build the schools, train teachers, provide learning materials, and ensure that there is no discrimination against girls.” But can the collective determination of Pakistan’s millions help achieve this goal? Can the government eradicate the threat of the Taliban from people’s lives?
Extremist armed groups like the Taliban are trying to rob Pakistan of its future. In 2012 alone, there were 96 attacks on schools in Pakistan. Politicians will have to deliver on their promise with stricter action against the abusers. Demonstration of anger needs to be accompanied by equally stronger action.
The international community lends its unflinching support but it is the men and women of Pakistan who have to speak out for their children – the future of Pakistan. The men have to heal themselves and change their perceptions about women; that women are more than home-makers. They have the right to an education too. They can work too. Gender gaps exist in Pakistan’s orthodox society and in many such societies of the world. Narrowing the gender gap is a critical need for prosperity. The road ahead is filled with obstacles and it is a long journey before Pakistan can achieve its dream of “education for all”. Malala Yousufzai is only the beginning.