Fighting Back

11.09.12

A Day for Malala

When the Taliban gunned down a teenage girl on a school bus, they sparked a global movement. This Saturday marks the first ‘Malala Day,’ with a massive petition being delivered to Pakistan's president.

Shot in the head by the Taliban on a school bus, young Malala Yousafzai is fighting to regain her strength. In the meantime, the world is speaking for her. The tragic shooting last month—meant to prevent her from getting an education—has sparked a global movement to help girls go to school in Pakistan. This Saturday, United Nations Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown will deliver a petition with a million signatures to President Zardari of Pakistan, encouraging the country to make education a priority. Brown has deemed the day “Malala Day.

Recent photos of Yousafzai show the 14-year-old making progress, sitting in a chair next to her father in a U.K. hospital, surrounded by cards and gifts. She is reportedly beginning to walk and talk. Her family stays close, visiting her twice a day. “She wants me to tell everyone how grateful she is and is amazed that men, women, and children from across the world are interested in her well-being,” her father said in a statement on Thursday. “We deeply feel the heart-touching good wishes of the people across the world of all caste, color, and creed.”

Yousafzai became a Taliban target for blogging and speaking publicly about the importance of education for girls. In so doing, she defied the Taliban’s extremist interpretations of Islamic law. Her father, a schoolmaster and peace activist, encouraged his daughter’s efforts, refusing to bend to Taliban rule.

In the wake of the shooting, people across the world have rallied round the teenage girl, Angelina Jolie among them. In a poignant essay for The Daily Beast, she described how she talked with her own children about the tragedy. She also joined Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Foundation to launch a Woman of Impact Award for Girls’ Education, to provide funds to groups on the ground fighting to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The effort has raised $125,000 so far.

“Let this be a lesson—that an education is a basic human right, a right that Pakistan’s daughters will not be denied,” Jolie wrote of the global movement.

Yousafzai and her family say they will return to Pakistan, where the Taliban have vowed to kill both father and daughter. It is a very real threat. According to Human Rights Watch, 96 attacks have been carried out on schools in Pakistan this year alone. Just last month, the Taliban reportedly threw acid at college girls on a van in northern Pakistan, leaving two girls with severe burns on their faces, according to local doctors.

Video screenshot

But other Malalas continue the fight. One of them is Afghanistan’s Noorjahan Akbar, a young advocate for education who is now attending college in the U.S. Another is Pakistan’s Hina Khan; she has appealed to the government for protection after being threatened for protesting the “Talibanization” of her country.

A classmate of Malala’s who was also shot in the attack, Kainat Riaz, first returned to school, then stopped, fearing for her life. It’s time to get these girls back on the bus.