Right to Learn

Gordon Brown: Malala’s Fight Continues

A horrific bus massacre in Pakistan left 14 female students dead. Gordon Brown on a new petition that aims to ensure all girls can go to school.

Exactly eight months after Malala Yousafzai was shot with two friends on their school bus, yet another bus massacre by Pakistani militants has killed 14 female students and left dozens injured.

The full horrifying details are only now just emerging of how the bus carrying more than 40 girls, who had just completed their day's studies at an all-women medical college in the city of Quetta, was blown up after a female suicide bomber hid on the bus.

The attack in the bus park of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University in the province of Baluchistan is an even more brutal incident than last year's bus shooting that almost claimed the life of Malala and her two friends, Kainat and Shazia—and it represents a terrifying escalation of the terrorist assault on girls' education.

Not only did the terrorists engineer a massacre by detonating the improvised explosive device on the bus, but when the dozens of casualties were taken to a nearby hospital, three other suicide bombers opened fire on the injured—and on doctors, nurses, and relatives—killing at least eight more and taking a number of hostages before blowing themselves up. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an al Qaeda–affiliated group, has claimed responsibility.

With the al Qaeda–inspired war against girls' education dramatically escalating after already closing more than 1,000 girls' schools and colleges in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa in recent years, the world faces an education emergency.

And today, in advance of Malala Day on July 12—at which Malala will make her first speech since her attack—a new petition has been launched, demanding urgent action from world leaders to ensure that out-of-school girls are able to safely enter education. The petition calls on world leaders to ensure that 57 million out-of-school children, the majority of them girls, are given the chance to pursue education by December 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

The secretary-general of the U.N. has condemned the attack as “heinous,” and Malala Yousafzai has issued a statement saying that “obtaining education is every man and woman’s birthright and no one, is allowed to take away this right from them.” This latest series of terrorist attacks shows that the battle to establish the right to education in outlying areas of Pakistan is a cause yet to be won. But while violent assaults on schools have risen since Malala was shot last October, so too has the public revulsion against extremists hellbent on denying girls the opportunity for education. After a 3 million–strong petition in the wake of the attack on Malala, Pakistani authorities voted to make education free and compulsory and to introduce stipends to support 3 million girls going to school. During the recent elections, parties made commitments to education, including a promise of doubled spending on basic schooling.

And it is girls themselves who are refusing to be cowed or blackmailed into accepting their subjugation. Whether it be brave individuals like Malala, and her tens of thousands of vocal supporters in Pakistan, or campaigning groups from across the world—the Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom, the Bangladesh child-marriage-free zones, the Ugandan child-protection clubs, the Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club, Indonesia’s Grobogan Child Empowerment Group, India’s Bachao Bachpan Andolan, and the Global March Against Child Labour—young people are engaged in a 21st-century civil-rights struggle for education. They are proving more assertive than ever before in demanding the rights that adults have until now failed to deliver.

The new petition reminds people that the demand for more support for the world's most marginalized out-of-school children is at the heart of the movement to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. While 40 million children have found school places since 2000, 57 million of the most vulnerable will not go to school today or any day. They include 15 million children in child labor, 10 million school-age girls who will be forced into child marriages, and millions more girls who are discriminated against simply because of their gender. Now, in the framing of the post-2015 goals, special attention is being sought for those who have been left behind.

On July 12, Malala herself will join the debate and present this new petition to the secretary-general at the United Nations in New York—a symbol of the young people of the world asserting their right to a decent, safe education. The petition can be signed at aworldatschool.org and will demonstrate that even as minority groups attempt to intimidate, threaten, and deter girls from their education, the majority can and must stand up in defiance—and in defense of that basic right.