Last week we were reminded that the voice of one young girl can resonate across the globe. The call came from Malala Yousufzai, a 14 year old from the Swat valley town of Mingora, Pakistan who was targeted by the Taliban for her efforts to promote girls’ education.
An activist since age 11, Malala had forcefully advocated for the cause of girls’ education through a BBC blog. She earned accolades for her work, and is currently a nominee for the International Childrens’ Peace Prize. All she wanted to do was attend school like her brothers, in the hopes of becoming a doctor. And it was because she shared her dreams and beliefs so publicly that the Taliban announced their intention to kill her.
On October 9, the Taliban carried out a savage attack on Malala and her classmates. Taliban gunmen hunted her down as she returned home from school, shooting her in the head. They also wounded two other schoolgirls riding on the bus with her.
As First Lady Laura Bush eloquently put it in the Washington Post: “Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her…[she] refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same.”
While we await the results of Malala’s surgeries and hope for her full recovery, we can honor Malala by recommitting ourselves to invest in the development of girls all over the world.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is not the only nation where women are deprived access to education. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) points out that of the 850 million girls in the world, some 62 million do not attend school. This has devastating effects not only on these girls and their families, but on the generations that succeed them.
One in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15. This leads to early pregnancy, and a host of risks to her life and health. But, with at least seven years of basic education, young women tend to marry up to four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. USAID points out that with each extra year beyond basic education, a young woman earns 10 to 20 percent more in income. And women tend to be better than men with the finances under their control; women spend a greater proportion of income for the benefit of their family.
The Pakistani people value education. We well know this from our own admiration for the Pakistani Americans who enrich our society and the Pakistani people who have rallied in support of Malala. The Pakistani government has rightly committed itself to bringing her attackers to justice, and spontaneous demonstrations of support for her and for the cause of basic education for girls have sprung up throughout the country.
Malala’s hope was to become a doctor. But in the New York Times video posted after the attack, we learn from Malala’s family that she was also thinking of becoming a politician, so that – in the words of her father Ziauddin Yousufzai – she could help create a society where a girl could easily achieve a doctoral degree, or reach other academic goals.
History has shown that when the women of a nation succeed, so does the country. As we work with Pakistan to help improve their society, let Malala’s vision of a future for her country serve as our goal for a world where women and girls are treated equally.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.