Thrilling news: 15-year-old education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot three times in the head at point-blank range by a Taliban hitman in October, is talking, and will be leaving the hospital. Despite all she’s been through, she remains as committed and fierce an advocate of the right for “every girl, every child, to be educated.”
Those are Malala’s own words in a statement — starting with the words ”today you can see that I am alive” – released before she underwent yet another operation to reconstruct her skull with a titanium plate and to insert a cochlear implant, to restore some hearing to her left ear.
Malala also released recorded statements in Urdu and Pashto, languages spoken in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. According to Fatima Manji of Britain’s Channel 4 News, in her statement in Urdu, Malala says “I would be willing to sacrifice myself again.”
The surgeons who have operated on Malala say that she “has no long-lasting brain injuries” and will not need any more surgery. She will remain in the hospital for three to five more days and then need nine to 18 months to recover.
It goes without saying that Malala has become a symbol of the fight for women’s rights and education in Pakistan and regions where the Taliban is dominant. But her untrammeled courage and determination to insist on education for girls, for every child, are a model for us all.
Many in the West unquestionably believe in equal access to education for girls as well as boys. However, take a brief glimpse at history and it is, sadly, too clear that educating girls on a wide scale is a distinctly modern phenomenon. Families might have educated girls if they had the inclination and means — and fortunately many did, including the ancient 4th century A.D. philosopher Hypatia in Alexandria in Egypt — but the notion that all girls of whatever economic level have the right to an education of the same quality as boys only arose in the 20th century. We still see at least the traces of this mentality in reports that girls have more anxiety about math than boys and that motherhood is “detrimental” to a career in math.
Technology in general and the Internet in particular can open new doors for girls’ education. One such is an initiative started by Hillary R. Clinton to make high quality educational materials about technology and the sciences available online in Arabic.
Just having the materials online is of course no guarantee that young women will find these and, even if they do, use them. But putting them out there is a first and necessary step. Malala could have attended school (no easy feat in and of itself), but she chose to put herself out there and let it be known that other young women must also be able to do the same.
Before the Taliban’s attack, Malala had inspired many through her advocacy for literacy and peace. Back in 2009, she had written an anonymous blog about what it was like to live under the Taliban. Her bravery has inspired a song; you can contribute to efforts to support Malala’s work via the Malala Fund. As of last week, Malala has officially been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
A fatwa has reportedly been issued against Malala by some clerics, who claim they will kill her if she recovers — but given the determination and heart she’s shown so far, I think she’ll be carrying on with her mission to see that all girls, all children, get the education they more than deserve.
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