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Beyond Malala


IT was a moment of hope for a country starved of it. When the teenage heroine who so valiantly stood up against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took the podium at the United Nations, Pakistan glowed with pride.

Her voice was clear and confident and her message simple: Pakistanis are tired of war, Pakistani women are brave and resilient, and Pakistani girls want more than anything to educate themselves. Malala Yousafzai spoke for a nation, and she did it well.

There were many moist eyes among the delegates present at the youth assembly last Friday, and when she was done she was given a standing ovation.

Moments such as Malala’s speech are rare and riveting for many reasons. To a country cowed by the Taliban and baffled by an avalanche of bombs, her survival represents possibility.

To the larger world that does not share her faith or nationality, it represents the inimitable power of the human spirit to overcome the forces of nihilism and darkness.

There is so little on which Pakistanis can agree, on which the world can agree, that finding a moment, a person, about whose goodness there are no qualms, is to be treasured indeed.

The questions come after the passing of the moment and after the applause. The first of them is what the world, represented by the UN and her country, owe to the girl who represents such hope. The question, of course, is where the complications lie.

While many were touched and moved by her words on Malala Day, few UN members would be willing to allow them to transcend or even touch the dictates of strategy that determine their support. Hands can be put together for the brave girl from Pakistan, but votes cannot be cast for her.

Votes are not determined by emotions or even empathy; they are determined by politics and strategy. Strategy dictates that the very men who attacked Malala will become partners in peace, and the countries of many of those representatives present will support them.

When it comes to the UN, its fervent fawning and clapping for female icons from Burma to Pakistan, while actively undermining the role of women within its own bureaucracy, is well known.

Not only has the UN failed to elect a female secretary general throughout its history, a 2010 report issued by the world body itself showed that its own efforts in gender mainstreaming had been sweeping and costly failures.

The newly formed UN women’s body has in recent months repeatedly called attention to the increase in sexual violence in countries facing political unrest, like Egypt and Syria. No one in the Security Council or the General Assembly has bothered to pay much attention.

In the flurry of conferences and working groups and committees that the UN regularly funds, little of actual import is ever achieved on behalf of women.