Young Woman Serves as Role Model for Us All
By Anggie Tamayo
Originally published in the November 2014 issue.
On October 9 2014, Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to advocating for accessible education for children, especially girls. Malala is the youngest person that has ever received this honorable prize and is a quintessential role model for many young people around the world who seek personal empowerment in the fight against injustice.
Malala lived and studied in Swat Valley, a province in northwest Pakistan. However, in 2007 Swat was occupied by the Islamic fundamentalist and nationalist movement, the Taliban. By 2009 the Taliban issued an edict to ban all girls from going to school, threatening and intimidating those who dare to contradict the mandate. Since then around 200 schools have been shut down and destroyed. In the documentary Class Dismissed: Malala’s Story, Malala was quoted giving a empowered and fiery response to the Taliban’s rule: “They cannot stop me, I will get my education at home, school, or any place.”
Unfortunately, this is not a story unique to Pakistan (Swat Valley) and Malala. Similar to her story, there are millions of children around the world who have suffered the same fate, who have been deprived of this fundamental right. According to a 2013 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, 31 million girls of primary school age not attending school, and 17 million are never expected to enter school. It also stated that two thirds of the worlds 774 million illiterate people are female.
In the Universal Declaration of the Rights of a Child adopted by the Unite Nations general assembly, children should enjoy the benefits of social security, and be provided with the proper opportunities and facilities to help them develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner in conditions of freedom and dignity.
During her speech in the United Nations Youth Assembly Malala raised her voice to talk about the right for education. She stated that those who promote war and oppression are afraid of the big power of education for equality and social justice.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons” Malala said, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
This young woman and her courage is awe-inspiring. Despite the Taliban’s murder attempt on October 9th 2012, where she suffered a gunshot wound to the head, she stands up fearlessly and is determined to continue speaking up for the basic human right of education.
Here in Washington State we aren’t without our share of problems requiring social and economic justice for children. A 2014 report by the Childrens Defense Fund stated that nearly 1 in 5 (288,147) children in the State live below the federal poverty line. Out of these children a disportionate amount are people of color, and only two fifths of three and four year olds were enrolled in public or private preschools. The Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled that the State Government has been damagingly underfunding basic education, and that it must fully fund K-12 public schooling and raise more tax revenue to meet that minimum. There is a fight to be won at home, one that Malala would certainly stand behind.
“I am Malala.” This was the slogan used by the United Nations special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown in a campaign for compulsory, worldwide, free education. By saying “I am Malala” it means, “I have the power, strength and courage to fight back for education.” It means a deep commitment to social justice and basic human rights. For those reasons, I am Malala. Are you?