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News & Media

Malala at 21! A journey of conviction, imagination and action for Global Girls Education

Author:Baela Raza Jamil, Member PAL Network, CEO ITA, Member PAL Network and Commissioner, the Education Commission Photo: KKF Model School, Shangla

Malala and Girls Education are synonymous today as a global equity is imperative. It was indeed an emotional homecoming as she touched her country’s soil on March 28, 2018, almost six years after being shot by the militants who were irked by her defiance for supporting girls’ education on October 9, 2012. Malala came ‘without fear and in peace to her homeland’ well received by the Prime Minister of Pakistan reminding him that there are many more like her. This time, she returned as a bigger Champion for Girls’ Education, a Nobel Peace Prize winner (2014), the youngest recipient ever of the prize at age 17. She has been consistent in her demand for “12 years of safe, free, quality education for every girl”, a target well reflected in the global SDGs 2030 and SDG 4; Malala campaigns for girls’ education especially the most excluded globally. Her famous tagline at the UN General Assembly in 2013, after recovery at age 16, “One child, one teacher one book and one pen can change the world” galvanized millions of supporters. Malala firmly walks the talk and she stands behind her convictions through the Malala Fund established in 2013. The Malala Fund has been supporting important programs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kenya Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, the latter three to support the Syrian Refugees.

Few may know, but Malala began her work in Pakistan in 2013, targeting elimination of ‘child domestic labor’ through education. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) center for education and consciousness was the implementing partner. She began her actions closest to home in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Forty young girls were identified who were engaged in child domestic labor as young as 5 years of age to be enrolled in ‘Saba Ranra (Let there be light)’ centre, a bridge program established in Malala’s former school in Mingora. All expenses were supported by the Malala Fund (then, at a nascent stage), including transport, books, uniforms, nutrition, health check-ups and stipends. Citizen led assessment (ASER) tools and accelerated learning interventions were implemented to fast track learning for these girls. Malala braved to become a champion for ending child domestic labor (CDL), classified as the worst form of child labor under ILO convention 182. CDL is still not accorded that classification in Pakistan under the Employment of Children’s Act 2001 or the Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016. This resistance persists in spite of well-known characteristics of CDL being invisible in its abuse, as it takes place behind closed doors, prone to violence and with majority being girls. The recent case of brutal torture of 10-year-old Tayyaba, employed as a CDL at a serving sessions judge home in Islamabad, deprived of all basic rights has been under public attention for 18 months. In spite of prison sentences passed against the powerful employers, they remain ‘free as they wait to appeal the verdict” Tayyaba, continues to live under state protection and care; she dreams of becoming a teacher! Malala knows the pain that Tayyaba and millions like her suffer, convinced that the fundamental right to education is the best protection.

“Progress in education has come to a standstill” 263 million children, adolescents & youth worldwide (or one in every five) are out school, and over 50% are girls”.

Malala is a vigorous advocate for Girls education without any discrimination due to ‘gender, ethnicity, location, poverty, disability and migration status’. She is fully committed to Equity and fairness principles, for targeting such groups and measurement of progress/constraints. These are well covered in the recently released Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education (March 2018) by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) providing practical and precise solutions to the ‘wicked’ problems of targeting and measurement of impact and best returns on investment.

Pakistan continues to struggle with her commitments to educate all children aged 5-16 years as a constitutional fundamental right since 2010, the same age group closest to Malala’s global campaign. According to ASER 2016, 21 percent out of school children are in the age group 5-16 and more importantly, only 52 percent and 48 percent of grade 5 children can cope with grade 2 competencies in Urdu and Arithmetic respectively. Lack of post primary opportunities, especially for girls, constrain progress to achieve right to education and SDG 4 targets.

Malala is fighting for education of the most vulnerable globally, be it the Chibok girls, Syrian refugees, the war torn areas of Afghanistan, one of the most deprived district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shangla where through her fund the KKF Model School for girls was constructed, opening doors in March 2018 just prior to her recent visit to Pakistan.

ASER Pakistan, the citizen led household based assessment survey (2016) for Shangla district reports 23 percent children out of school of which 1 7 percent are girls with acute learning gaps! Attention to Shangla district through support from the Malala Fund illustrates her commitment to investing in education as the only catalytic force for raising girls capabilities and voice. Malala Fund has supported the Gul Makai Network, a campaign for girl advocates. Malala reaches out to geographies where ‘girls are under attack’; she manages that time from her Oxford University academic commitments. Her message remains simple, consistent and powerful; ‘girls and women can only become empowered through quality Education’.

From her days of ‘Gulmakai diaries as a 9-year-old (2009-12) to Nobel Prize winner Malala at 17; from Mingora, Swat to Birmingham to Oxford, it is an incredible journey. Malala turns 21 years on July 12, 2018 with many ‘firsts’ to her credit. She has ambitions to educate the most marginalized backed by the Malala Fund programs supported by many alliance partners including GPE, UNESCO, Starbucks, Apple and many more. Whenever she appears at the United Nations General Assembly, or to receive awards/Nobel Prize, she never forgets her peers from Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon. She knows that this is a collective battle where all frontline fighters must be given space and recognition. ITA as member of the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network, operating in 14 countries held sessions around her powerful film “I am Malala” at teachers and children’s literature festivals across Pakistan. Malala is about making the ordinary into extraordinary; turning grief[1] to hope, daring to believe in her convictions, backed by action and always without fear.

She inspires many billions today, and whilst she is Pakistan’s daughter rooted in this soil, Malala is a shared global public good; a force and Champion across many countries and continents giving the same simple message ‘quality learning of ALL girls and women at all costs for a minimum of 12 years of education”. She is forceful and transformative; watch her as an ever towering, unassuming global activist for education, capabilities, and entitlements.

[1] Malala means ‘grief-stricken’ http://palnetwork.org/malala-at-21-a-journey-of-conviction-imagination-and-action-for-global-girls-education/