Today is Malala Day and possibly the most courageous and inspirational 16 year old ever, will celebrate her birthday by addressing the United Nations General Assembly. She will draw attention to a global education crisis, on a day that her attackers had never intended her to see.
Malala Yousafzai’s story should be familiar to all. The young Pakistani activist was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban, her crime; she wanted to attend school.
She had been travelling home on a school bus with other students. 14 of them died that day, all were girls from an female only school. She was brought to the United Kingdom for treatment and for several days the whole world seemed to hold it’s breath, praying for this brave young woman to recover. Fortunately she slowly returned to health, but the ordeal failed to silence her. Her resolve only seemed strengthened, her determination unwavering and she immediately became a symbol for equality in education.
It is a remarkable quirk of fate that as a consequence of this horrific and cowardly act, merely highlighted her cause. Her campaign has received global recognition, made her a public figure and increased pressure on the Pakistan government to take action. Without the attack, Malala Day probably wouldn’t be occurring. Its aim is simple; to ensure all children have the same opportunities to attend school.
Malala initially came to prominence when under a pseudonym she authored a blog for the BBC. This journaled the hardships of life in the Swat Valley where she lived. It detailed the restrictions placed on her and other girls by the Taliban and her recommendations of how education could be reformed. As she continued to blog her identity was gradually revealed, but she continued to be outspoken regarding the inequalities in her country and she was elected to the Chair of District Child Assembly Swat late in 2009. A New York Times documentary featured her and was filmed during the Second Battle of Swat.
She was not alone in her stand against the Taliban; her father was also a voice against extremism, describing it without reservation as terrorism. It seems likely his stance and support was a source of inspiration for Malala.
Malala has made it clear that she is interested in a career in politics, obviously believing this was the best vehicle to bring about reform. Death threats were published in national newspapers and social media websites. Her activism continued unabated however, and she was subsequently nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She was later awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize securing her celebrity status in her home country.
Her bravery and determination have been recognised with numerous other awards, including the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and being featured by Time magazine as one of “The 100 Most Influential People In The World”.
Her campaign is an extremely important one. At present there are 57 million children, which do not have access to education; 32 million of these are girls. Many millions more are attending schools where they are not receiving an acceptable standard of education.
There is a requirement to make fundamental changes to the education system in a number of countries and regions of the world. Funding for more teachers, further training, the provision of schools, equipment and school books is desperately needed. It is time to finally put an end to child labour, marriage and trafficking, it seems amazing that in 2013 there is still a need to be discussing these topics.
The ambitious Millennium Development goal has promised that every child will be in school by December 2015. That is a tall order, however a noble commitment which with sufficient support will hopefully be fulfilled. There will be numerous fund or awareness raising events organised around the world today. This includes a convention of youth leaders at the UN building, which is being described as a ‘youth takeover’.
The Taliban continue to make threats against Malala, and have stated that the original attack is a warning to other girls who might be influenced by her to seek an education. An archaic and a reprehensible attitude to women and a statement which could only be made by cowards.
Malala is a beacon of hope for millions and an inspirational figure for millions more. She has lived in a war zone, battled for her life, been forced to battle for much of her short life, her battles will continue.
Today a 16 year old girl will address the General Assembly of the United Nations, she will stand before world leaders, giving her first public speech since the attack. A petition will then be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, it will include over one million signatures from children that are being denied education. Surely a birthday to remember, today a schoolgirl becomes an icon.