Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her bus ride home from school and nearly died on Oct. 9, 2012 at the age of 15. She was simply doing something that many students complain about on a daily basis, commuting to school. However, Yousafzai was considered a threat to the Taliban because she spoke out in support of female education.
Unfortunately, she is not the only one that is denied the right to education. According to the White House, nearly 62 million girls are deprived of primary and secondary education around the world from Africa to Asia to the Middle East.
Taylor Short, a women’s studies major at UC Berkeley, says equal access to education is critical.
“By allowing some people to have access to education and refusing education to others, we are perpetuating a system of oppression,” she said.
Yousafzai’s hometown of Mingora, Pakistan was once a peaceful place, but soon became violent when the Taliban took over. In 2008, she gave a speech entitled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to an Education,” in response to the Taliban’s merciless attack on schools for girls.
In Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, she mentioned that more than 400 schools had been bombed in developing countries alike and girls’ education went from being a right to being a crime. However, she did not stop her crusade.
The Taliban continues to threaten her even after she received the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2014, gave several advocacy speeches, and published an autobiography called I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013). A top Taliban spokesperson said in an interview that the group would continue to look for opportunities to harm Malala as long as she remains an advocate for female education.
Yousafzai did not seek revenge against the Taliban. Instead, she looked beyond her situation and started a movement that saw a better future for girls with books rather than bullets. On her 18th birthday, July 12, 2015, now known as Malala Day, she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. Subsidized by the Malala Fund, the school was designed to enroll nearly 200 girls between the ages of 14 and 18.
Girls in developing countries have significant disadvantages other than the lack of educational opportunities. These obstacles include religious restrictions, poverty, labor-related work requirements, and family servitude including the maintenance of the family home, child and elderly care.
Without strong activists for global education like Yousafzai, African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries would have much higher rates of illiteracy. Our world leaders have the money to fully fund primary and secondary education around the world, but they choose to spend most of this money on their military budgets. In reality, if these leaders stopped military spending for just eight days, the requisite $39 billion would be available to provide free, quality education to every child on the planet.
Many times there aren’t enough schools for the males alone to attend. According to The Economist, only 15 percent of both boys and girls were enrolled in secondary school last year in Niger. By funding school construction in some of the poorest countries, girls could stop competing with the boys for the few spaces that are available. According to Unicef, a year of secondary school for a girl later equates to a 25 percent increase in wages.
Erma Bernard, a member of the commission on the status of women for Los Angeles City Hall, says that, “until we can make sure that all young ladies are educated as proportionally as young men, no country can go forth and be successful.”
Students can join the movement to spread greater access to education for all students, with respect to race, class, and gender. Some students are the first generation in their family to go to college. Others are overcoming financial hardships to attend college with scholarships and government aid. Women are confidently moving into fields previously dominated by men including engineering, science and mathematics.
As Yousafzai said, “When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is.”