It was 9th October 2012, and a normal afternoon in the Swat Valley, where children were returning to their homes after school. “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all,” said the gunmen who targeted the bus in which Malala Yousafzai was travelling, a 15 year old girl, a student and an education activist from Pakistan’s where she is known for her education and women’s rights activism in the Swat Valley, an area in which Taliban has banned girls from attending school. On being identified, she was shot in the head and neck. Two others were also wounded in the incident.
The Child Blogger from Pakistan
If one wonders the authenticity of a 15 year old being on the hit list of Taliban, then one needs not hold doubts longer as the incident does not stem from a child hero movie. It portraits the life in which the people of Swat Valley live on a daily basis. Yosafzai who lives with her family in the valley, is known for voicing her opinions against the ban of Taliban on female education, and condemning their attacks on education cetres. In early 2009, at the age of eleven years, Yousafzai bravely expressed her concerns in a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC which resulted in her rising to fame through her activism. She has since, been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu and has won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
Malala was too young to be condemned of any crime. Still being a child, though a very courageous one, her crime was deemed as belief that girls deserve the right to education. It is claimed that the attack on her was ordered by a Taliban leader whom according to the Washington Post is “infamous for his long campaign against female education.”
Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, referred to Yousafzai as “the symbol of the infidels and obscenity,” and added they would continue to target her, if she were to survive the attack. He also said that the young blogger had been brainwashed by her father, Ziauddin who himself is an open critic of the Taliban rule, and stresses that the both of them remain on the Taliban’s list of intended victims.
Taliban attack on Malala succeeded in getting the attention of her country as well as the international community on the important right concerning the right of girls to access education. Thousands marched in cities across Pakistan in protest. The Secretary-General of the UN expressed his outrage and strongest condemnation over the shooting of Malala Yousufzai. He called for the perpetrators of the act to be brought to justice.
“The terrorists showed what frightens them most: a girl with a book”, said the Secretary-General.
The girl from Swat had not only managed to spread her word in the valley but also had managed to get the attention of the world, and those who mattered for her cause. She and her plight had exposed the global malady of misogyny and successfully stressed that today, women cannot be confined within four walls of a house.
Education: the Right
The right to education has been recognised since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Article 26 of the Declaration proclaims among other things that everyone has the right to education. It also highlight this right to be universal and not discriminated based on factors among which are gender, ethnicity and religion.
In addition the right has further been enshrined in a range of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights , The Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and more recently in The Convention On The Rights of The Child (the world has realised the rights of children play a key role in contributing to the rights of adults in general, as well as society)
However it needs to be remembered that the right to education is universally recognised, its interpretation nationally is of substantial difference, and indicator that though every human is expected to be a holder of the right, the mode of securing the right varies on location. In some countries the right will be enforceable through national legislation while in others it will be of persuasive effect in the making of public policies.
Sri Lanka and Female Education
Sri Lanka has the right to education mentioned in the Constitution, as an article which is to be of persuasive effect. Article 27 of The Constitution of Sri Lanka 1978 amended 2001, caters to this. Read with Article 12 of the Constitution the non-discriminative education of girls and boys alike can be taken as a priority in the Sri Lanka.
One may argue otherwise if they chose to do so, however I would say looking at the situation in Sri Lanka, we women in Sri Lanka can be considered benefiters. Reading articles that express that money allocated to free education is worthless does make me wonder whether one has really taken a look at the system that has given the opportunity to many a woman to at least the ability to read and write, leave alone becoming bread winners of their families. UNICEF data (2005-2010) provides that 99 per cent of female youth between the ages of 15 to 24 are literate as opposed to 97 per cent male rate. Primary school enrolment is at 97 per cent for females, which is the same as males. So throw stones at me for saying this, specially following the whole debate on the allocation of percentage of GDP and many strikes of the universities, in Sri Lanka girls as well as boys, benefit from education, ( I shall not venture to analyse the quality of the education provided, but will believe in the fact that we do have some form of education which is not gender discriminative). Cause for rejoice? Not entirely.
Data available provide that post war access to education in the North and the East are not the same in numbers compared to the areas where the war was not prevalent. It is evident that the war has impacted education in many ways, among which the depletion of resources and psychological effects from decades of war, play a key role. One does need to admit that facts aforementioned as well as families that are yet to be settled into their homes, and many children being orphaned or suffering financially do indicate that the right to education in practice is not the same as in theory (yes we are persuaded enough but not entirely enough). However one can but continue to stand by the fact that some form of education being provided, and the right to education being acknowledged is a good situation to be in than living in a society where a woman being literate would be resulting being gunned down or being called a “symbol of obscenity”.
A Girl Educated, a Generation Enlightened
Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits. Yet millions of children and adults remain deprived of educational opportunities, many as a result of poverty. Education is a powerful tool by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully as citizens.
One speaks of the right to education as a general right, however the “Malala situation” has opened everyone’s eyes regarding the situation pertaining to female education. The importance lies in the fact that educating a girl does not remain individual’s education alone, but becomes a capacity building of a family and a generation. This unquestionably lies with the fact in motherhood, and the close ties that a girl she to her family. Thus a girl’s education helps improve their own lives, the lives of their families and the conditions in the their communities. This further highlights equal rights between genders, in communities where women are discriminated based on the sole fact of being a female, resulting to being blocked access to financial independence, and in turn leading to dependency on the males of the society who are a contributor to her oppression. Personally I could not think of a life without being literate. Literacy playing a key role and may be the most important fact that would help my life. It helps a woman identify her capacity, her rights, and in turn make her empowered to face challenges of the world, and not be a victim of the discriminative and oppressing elements of the society.