GEA Policy Report – July 2013
Malala Day, July 12, 2013, was a week ago, as it was Malala Yousafrai’s 16th birthday. To celebrate she was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York about her campaigns for universal and free education for all (EFA) and the speech she gave was broadcast to schoolchildren worldwide. She argued that ‘I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. If he stood in front of me, I would not shoot him…The[y] are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them…’
Readers will recall that Malala was the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the face on her way home from school by a Taliban gunman in the Swat valley on October 12th 2012. She was severely injured and flown to England for surgery in Birmingham at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She has made a miraculous recovery and is now attending secondary school in Birmingham. Her family has moved to Birmingham to be with her.
Malala had begun her campaigning for girls’ education in 2009, under a pseudonym, writing a blog for the BBC world service. Her father was a headteacher in the area and encouraged her education. According to The Guardian (28 March 2013, p.6) her real identity became known and she frequently appeared in Pakistan and international media advocating for the right of girls to go to school. In October 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace prize and in December 2011, aged 14, she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. It was this that eventually brought her to the attention of the Taliban in the region, given their wishes to reinforce women’s subordinate role as housewives and mothers befitting their version of Islamic texts.
Malala’s cause has been taken up by several international celebrities, for instance the film star Angelina Jolie, who has been campaigning for women’s rights and especially health questions such as breast cancer, given her own diagnosis.
Malala has also been contracted to write a book entitled I am Malala about her life. It will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK and Commonwealth and by Little, Brown in the rest of the world. She argued then that ‘I hope this book will reach people around the world, so they realize how difficult it is for some children to get access to education. I want to tell my story, but it will also be the story of 61 million children who can’t get education. I want to be part of the campaign to give every boy and girl the right to go to school.’
International politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon and tried to transform this campaign into a wider political issue. For example, the incoming Secretary of State for the US, John Kerry, replacing Hillary Clinton, argued that he would continue her fight for women. In an article entitled Malala’s vital lesson for US foreign policy published in London’s Evening Standard on international women’s day (March 8, 2013, p.14) he argued that the world should tackle ‘gender-based violence. As the father of two daughters, I cannot imagine the pain suffered by the parents of the young woman known as ‘Nirbhaya’ the 23 year old medical student murdered on a New Dehli bus simply for being a woman, or the anguish felt by the parents of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by extremists as she too rode on a bus, simply for wanting to go to school’. He then went on that ‘No country can ahead if it leaves half its people behind…That is why the United States believes gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability and peace, and why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing US foreign policy.’
Similarly, the former British prime minister and now UN education envoy, Gordon Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown have taken up her cause. They were involved with organizing Malala Day both at the UN, and through the children’s charity Plan UK, A World at School. Since Malala’s attack, the Pakistani government has passed a law making primary school education mandatory for all children. This was originally part of the UNESCO’s Millennium Development goals of 2000, to be implemented by 2010!
The goals of universal girls’ education and education for all are clearly vitally important in the world and the GEA supports both wholeheartedly. The two goals, however, confuse rather than clarify gender relations. Gender-related violence is not confined to the developing regions of the world, although it is clear that it remains a serious problem for the implementation of EFA.
A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala ‘expressing regret that he didn’t warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents…and ‘smearing’ them rather than for her campaign for girls’ education.’ (The Guardian, 18 July 2013, p. 3). In other words, he argued that the use of the gun was legitimate in the battle for a ‘proper’ form of Islam in the region. Thus violence, and gender-based violence in particular remain legitimate.
It is also the case that the campaigns for education ignore gender-based violence which are still rife in the UK and USA and elsewhere. We must continue to argue for a more appropriate form of education for all that tackles issues of gender, gender based sexual abuse, as part of child sexual abuse as well as including violence against women (VAW) as part of a proper education for all.
GEA Policy Officer
July 19th 2013