It is, in many ways, sad that it took the shooting of a teenage girl to wake the world up to the continued militant crisis in Pakistan and the lack of access to education for girls everywhere. It is also sad that as accolades pour in for 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai from around the world, in her own country, there are still people who seek to malign her and propagate theories that she is a puppet of foreign powers meant to serve other interests.
However, the latest honour in her name is a huge one. The Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, set up at a Unesco-organised ‘Stand up for Malala’ event, in Paris on December 10, aims to raise billions of dollars to ensure that all girls around the world go to school by 2015, in line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. President Asif Ali Zardari, who met Malala in the UK hospital where she remains under treatment, got the fund in Malala’s name rolling with a $10 million donation.
Tributes for Malala poured in, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the EU’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, sending special videotaped messages of support. Malala’s birthday, July 12, has been declared a special day of action for the rights of girls to education and her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, has been appointed to help create a new ‘Malala Plan’ to get all girls into school around the world.
Malala has moved the world. It is a pity it took so terrible a crime to do so. The challenge ahead is also a big one. According to UN estimates, 61 million children do not go to school around the world; girls account for two-thirds of this number. Too many of these girls live in Pakistan. Female literacy in the country still stands below 40 per cent; in some parts of the tribal belt and Balochistan, even today, enrolment for girls at schools is dismally low. It is these realities that we have to change. More than any words, it is real change in her own country which would constitute a real tribute to Malala. For the sake of all girls, this change must come.