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Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 12 Dec 2012 11:45 GMT
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NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world.

Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school -- an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story -- and her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death -- has captivated the world and made her an international icon for girls' education.

Around 35 million girls across the world do not go to primary school compared with 31 million boys, the World Bank says.

The reasons for this disparity vary but often stem from a combination of poverty and patriarchal customs like child marriage in regions such as South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where three-quarters of the world's out-of-school girls live.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE?

Malala, who is recovering well in a hospital in the English city of Birmingham, has become the poster girl not only for these millions of girls but for many more people round the world.

Over 260 million people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. These include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Indian minister Shashi Tharoor and Bangladeshi writer and feminist Taslima Nasreen.

The United Nations has named Nov. 10 "Malala Day" to show the world that people of all creeds, sexes, backgrounds and countries stand behind the Pakistani teenager.

The Pakistani government, together with the World Bank and Britain, has started a new programme to enable 3 million poor children to go to school by providing impoverished families with a monthly stipend of $2 per child.

And over the weekend, Pakistan and the U.N. launched a new plan dubbed the "Malala Plan" to motivate girls around the world to enrol in school by 2015. The plan, with initial funding of $10 million pledged by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, aims to use advocacy and campaigns to promote the importance of schooling for children across the world.

Gordon Brown, former British prime minister and now U.N. special envoy for global education, says Malala's birthday, July 12, will be a day of action,when children around the globe are invited to march, demonstrate, petition and pray for education to be delivered worldwide.

On Monday Brown appointed Malala's father Ziauddin Yousafzai -- a former teacher and headmaster -- as his education adviser for the "Malala Plan," to promote the plan.

"Before she was shot, Malala was advocating the cause of girls’ education faced by a Taliban that had closed down and destroyed 600 schools," said Brown.

"If the Taliban sought to vanquish her voice once and for all, they failed. For today, her voice and her insistent dream that children should go to school echoes all around the world, as girl after girl, each wanting all girls to have the right to go to school, identifies with Malala.

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