Today's date:
Winter 2013

Malala: Everyone’s Daughter in the Fight for Girls’ Education

Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of Great Britain, is the United Nations special envoy for global education.

LONDON—Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for demanding that she and other girls go to school, is rightly becoming the icon for 32 million girls worldwide who are out of primary school.

Today, the girl from the Swat Valley of Pakistan, who was forced to flee her village when the Taliban forced the closure of her school, should be adopted by the world. As she fights the Taliban, who labeled her campaign for girls’ education an “obscenity,” her courage should be celebrated and we should think of her as everyone’s daughter.

Three years ago, at age 11, Malala told us in a blog, “I was afraid of going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.” She described how, “on my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you.’” Banned from school, she told the world that, “my real name means ‘grief stricken.’”

Now, as her name is broadcast across the world as an icon for courage and hope, I am determined that her shooting produces much more than just the talk of change. When I met President Zardari, we agreed to draw up a plan to put Pakistan’s 5 million out-of-school girls and boys in school. A week before, I also met the new Pakistani foreign minister and finance minister and pledged global support if they would move further and faster to achieve education for all.

I have talked to the president about expanding the cash support scheme organized by the Benazir Bhutto Income Support Program that incentivizes families to get their children, especially their daughters, to school. At the same time, we talked of expanding the UK-supported project in the Punjab that has already sent an additional 1 million children to school by insisting on attendance, teacher quality and proper administration.

But Pakistan needs a step-change in delivery of education by each of its provinces, which are responsible for schools, if we are to have a chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goal that every child is enrolled in school by 2015.

Around the world, the campaign for girls’ education—a campaign that Malala now symbolizes—is fighting evils which prevent us realizing our goal. Child marriage takes 10 million girls a year out of school and into marriages they did not choose; child labor prevents 15 million girls and boys under 14 from going to school; the conscription of child soldiers takes an estimated 100,000 girls out of school.

Our aim is to get governments, international NGOs and businesses together around the table to agree on practical proposals to turn the promise of education for every girl into a reality by the end of 2015.

It costs just two dollars a week to educate a child in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia—and so we have to fight the prejudice that downgrades girls to second-class citizens who are not to be heard and rarely seen either.

Pakistan needs to be shocked into action, with the Taliban shamed and forced into accepting the basic freedoms of every girl. Malala’s fight for life should become the whole world’s fight for not only establishing every girl’s right to education but also achieving within three years a school place for the neglected 32 million.