"If you cast your eyes around the world, there is no group that needs to be empowered more than women and girls," US Secretary of State HALF THE SKY. "It’s the unfinished business of the 21st Century."
On October 9, this ‘unfinished business’ was brought into sharp and painful focus when the Taliban dispatched a masked hitman to assassinate a fifteen year old girl. What was Malala Yousafzia’s crime? Her steadfast insistence that she and other Pakistani girls were entitled to an education.
Against what seemed insurmountable odds, Pakistani doctors were able to stabilize her condition, and Malala was moved to a UK hospital for treatment. The most recent medical bulletins indicate the brave teenager is able, with help, to stand and take a few steps. And while she is still on a ventilator and unable to speak, she is communicating with her doctors and nurses via written notes. A hospital spokesperson warns that it is still too early to make predictions about her long-term prognosis, however Malala’s recovery is exceeding her doctors’ initial expectations, and her remarkable spirit is intact.
As an 11 year old schoolgirl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala captured world attention by her passionate advocacy for a young woman’s right to an education. Even though her life was repeatedly threatened, in countless interviews she continued to argue for her cause, and wrote a blog for the BBC that chronicled and criticized life under Taliban rule. Her bravery caught the world’s imagination, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and awarded the first National Youth Peace Prize in her native Pakistan.
As New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, observed in a recent article, the Taliban most certainly is aware of the transformative power of girls’ education. And they have sent a clear and terrible message that they will continue to terrorize those who resist their arcane, misogynistic dictates -- even if it means murder. But there are some points of light emerging from this near-tragedy, including push-back from Pakistanis who have rallied to Malala and her cause, garnering support from members of the Islamic clergy, and Pakistan's President has denounced the shooting.
"Malala is our pride,” says Interior Minister . “She became an icon for the country."
But in a world obsessed with celebrity and easily distracted by the next new thing, some observers are concerned that Malala and her story will get buried in the next news cycle. The rights of women are still under assault throughout the world, whether by the Taliban in Pakistan or by sex traffickers right here in the United States.
“Malala's rallying cry has proven stronger and more lasting than the gunshots from her would-be assassin and is resounding in every corner of Pakistan, inspiring her countrymen to stand up and emancipate themselves from the thugs who are out to steal the future of coming generations and snatch their individual and collective freedoms,” writes one commentator. “Yesterday's Malala of Swat has become the Malala of Pakistan and the Malala of the wider civilized world.”
Now it is imperative that the ‘wider civilized world’ does not forget.