When we imagine a fourteen year old girl, ideas of innocence and childish purity enter our mind. We think of someone who’s fed up at school, yet still embroiled in the daily toil of education. However, the experiences of Malala Yousufzai in the Swat Valley of northern Pakistan have been anything but what our conception of ‘normal’ leads us to believe; and her story highlights how we so often take the gift of education for granted.
Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head on Tuesday, 9th October 2012. The Tehreek-i-Taliban of Pakistan soon claimed that their gunman did the job. Luckily for the young girl, doctors managed to control the damage and it seems she may yet live to see another day. Malala, of Mingora, started writing for BBC Urdu at just eleven years of age and is already the recipient of a national award for bravery. The letters bound together by her pen were representations of the need for education, for girls’ rights, and often for secularism. Now with the murder attempt, just her being is symbolic, not only of the problems with Pakistani society, but of the idea of basic rights such as freedom of speech, education and liberty. Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Malala in hospital on Wednesday and said the Taliban had “failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage”.
On Thursday, anti-Taliban protests and demonstrations broke out in Peshawar, Multan, Mingora and Lahore and thousands of people have sent the teenager messages of support through various forms of social media. The government, which failed to rebuild many of the urban areas of swat and other Taliban dominated areas, is now under the microscope and the whole world is watching. Malala Yousufzai’s murder attempt shocked and angered the world and the onus is on those in positions of power to help the cause she so bravely started fighting for with a pen in 2009.
The event marks a low ebb in the very unflattering recent Pakistani history. Terrorists have dominated many of the north-west areas of Pakistan and have constantly shut down schools so as to control education through extremist religious dogma. However, that is not the only problem Pakistan faces with education. Despite the simple task of just being able to write your name enough to classify you as literate, Pakistan still boasts one of the lowest literacy rates in the world at 56% (UNICEF 2005-2010). Moreover, Pakistan’s overall government spending on education is a meagre 0.58% of their budget and 0.9% of their GDP (as opposed to 10% in the United States). Such a low figure for a country where 42% of it’s 175 million population is under the age of eighteen is quite a frightening sign for the future. With the growing Taliban keen to take advantage of illiterate youth, education in Pakistan needs quick reform.
Malala Yousufzai never complained about how she had to read the whole history textbook after sitting through a long lecture. Instead, she fought, and fights on, for a right to be able to read, for a right to think what she wants to without others encroaching on her peaceful motives, and for the right to life, one that promises to make her a national icon and a voice for the oppressed. And just as Malala escaped death, hopefully her story will be the spark of life Pakistan requires to change it’s own fate, and bring peace and education to the masses that deserve it.
(Featured Image: Edge of Space, Flickr, Creative Commons)