I’m sure a lot of you heard about Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl activist from Pakistan who was shot by the Taliban this week for standing up for the right to be educated. The Taliban targeted her for “propagating” Western culture and promoting education, which they called an “obscenity.”
This tragedy couldn’t have come at a more poignant time, as today is the UN’s first-ever International Day of the Girl Child, a day to highlight the importance of empowering girls and ensuring their human rights. Malala’s tragedy is a fresh reminder of why the international development community must keep fighting for girls’ rights.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the issue, but I think Former First Lady Laura Bush’s op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday sums it up perfectly — and strikes a powerful chord in the activist spirit inside each of us.
Ms. Bush, who gave the first US presidential radio address on the treatment of women under the Taliban, who writes about Malala’s activism and the ongoing struggle for women and girls’ rights under the Taliban, urges readers not to “look the other way” when it comes to confronting difficult issues, just as Malala did.
Her piece also offered up some interesting tidbits about Malala’s life, including the fact that Malala was a nominee for the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize and wrote about her personal struggle to educate herself in a blog for BBC’s Urdu news channel service.
But the best part about Ms. Bush’s op-ed is that her great emphasis on action, not just words. Read what she had to say:
Speaking out after an atrocious act, however, isn’t enough. Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her. Her life represents a brighter future for Pakistan and the region. We must speak up before these acts occur, work to ensure that they do not happen again, and keep our courage to continue to resist the ongoing cruelty and barbarism of the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same.
Malala is the same age as another writer, a diarist, who inspired many around the world. From her hiding place in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Today, for Malala and the many girls like her, we need not and cannot wait. We must improve their world.
Which begs the question: How can we move beyond words and take real action for women and girls right now? Here are some ideas — but we’d also love to open up the discussion and hear some of yours. Tell us in a comment below.
More on Malala:
Malala has won, The New York Times
Malala and the first international day of the girl, Huffington Post
Al Jazeera’s coverage of Malala