Last year was the first International Day of the Girl Child, after the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170. . The UN’s web page states that the Day, which shall be held every October 11th, was created
…to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. For its second observance, this year’s Day will focus on “Innovating for Girls’ Education.”
Also today, October 11, 2013, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded. I was hoping that the award would have gone to Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic militia which uses tactics of fear and violence to enforce its very strict interpretation of Sharia law, banned tens of thousands of girls from attending school there in 2009. Malala has been a women’s rights and education activist since 2009, when she was eleven-years-old. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a human right’s activist, a schoolteacher and founder of an all-girls school, was approached by a BBC Urdu journalist. The journalist asked Ziauddin if he knew anyone who would be prepared to present their point of view about living under Taliban rule. In February 2009 Malala began writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu called “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl.” However, Malala did speak publicly to a Pakistani television presenter when he came to the Swat Valley.
On September 26, 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon set forth the United Nations Global Education First Initiative. Here is the opening of his statement on that occasion.
Education is a major driving force for human development. It opens doors to the job market, combats inequality, improves maternal health, reduces child mortality, fosters solidarity, and promotes environmental stewardship. Education empowers people with the knowledge, skills and values they need to build a better world.
The aims of the initiative are (1) Put every child in school, so that universal primary education is achieved by 2015; (2) Improve the quality of education, making it more relevant in today's knowledge-based society; and (3) Foster global citizenship.
Education is much more than an entry to the job market. It has the power to shape a sustainable future and better world. Education policies should promote peace, mutual respect and environmental care.
On October 9, 2012, Malala was riding the school bus home when Taliban gunmen attempted to assassinate her, shooting her in the neck and head. She was flown to the United Kingdom for medical care, but was not expected to live. Against the odds, Malala survived and made a complete recovery. By July 12, 2013, Malala’s sixteenth birthday, she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly.
“So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak—not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born. I am the same Malala. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same…Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.
If the Nobel Prize committee had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala, this would have given the world tremendous momentum for global education. Instead, the committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is charged
“…with an onerous but noble task—to act as the guardian of the global ban on chemical weapons that took effect in 1997.”
Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 and, clearly, has used her sixteen years to accomplish extraordinary feats with her activism and focus on education. While arms control and disarmament are crucial to peace, global education could help put an end to war. There’s a lesson in here. I only wish that the Nobel Peace Prize committee had been able to learn it.