“Which one of you is Malala?”
You could say Malala Yousafzai has an abnormal profile for a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl. These days her name has become synonymous with education activism, a near-assassination by Taliban extremists and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination—the latter of which has her recognised as the youngest nominee in history. Her efforts in the fight for the education of girls have led to her speaking and writing extensively (occasionally under pseudonyms to preserve her safety). More dramatically, in October 2012 it also led to the Taliban attempting to end her life—shooting up her school bus after demanding: “which one of you is Malala?”—and rendering her in critical condition for “promoting Western thinking.”
After narrowly surviving the horrific attack, (skull reconstruction, complete) Malala is back on the development scene as the designated poster child for raising awareness of the need for cultural change around the education of girls. Speaking out on the importance of educating “every girl, every child”, she recently set up the Malala Fund in aid of this mission, garnering support far and wide with such illustrious personas as the Vice Presidents of Google and Twitter, and even Madonna joining the cause.
The fact that extremists saw fit to target her so specifically—threatening after their unsuccessful murder attempt to go after her a second time—exposes with terrifying clarity the work still to do in convincing developing nations of the value of educating the other half of their populations: women.
In their 2009 book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide, husband and wife duo Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof expound on the ancient proverb that “women hold up half the sky”, detailing how the education of women has a direct bearing on a country’s ability to break out of cyclical poverty. Malala Yousafzai is the embodiment of the book’s ethos; an encouraging view into a future where placing value on every child’s right to an education is no longer a lofty concept, but a reality.
All the while the culturally entrenched dark underbelly of misogynism continues to enable the oppression of women such as Malala, the development of nations including Pakistan will be impeded.