Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Girl Child and Malala Yousafzai's Crusade

October 11, 2012 was the first International Day of the Girl Child.

This day was marked to focus attention on the challenges the girl child faces, the need for her social and economic development and the need to empower her through education and equal rights with men.

The Executive Directors of UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UN Women issued a joint statement that outlined the goal for this year. "This year we have come together to focus on child marriage."  To achieve this, the directors made a plea to all governments to do the following:

We call on governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, faith-based groups and the international community to accelerate efforts to:
  • Enforce legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18;
  • Improve equal access to quality primary and secondary education;
  • Mobilize girls, boys, parents and leaders to change discriminatory gender norms and create alternative social, economic and civic opportunities for girls;
  • Support girls who are already married by providing them with options for schooling, sexual and reproductive health information and services, including HIV prevention, livelihoods skills and recourse from violence in the home;
  • Address the root causes of child marriage, including violence against girls and women.

It is regrettable that women in underdeveloped countries face these challenges alone and are suppressed mercilessly with threats/acts of extreme physical violence. Malala Yousafzai 14, and a tireless advocate of girls' education since she was 11, was shot in her head and neck by Taliban gunmen as she was going back home from school on October 9. She was targeted because she spoke her mind about the ban on girl's education in the once Taliban-occupied Pakistan and for criticizing the militant group. The Taliban considers Malala's crusade for educational rights for girls an obscenity and a propagation of undesirable western values.  Laura Bush, our former First Lady, expressed the urgency for the creation of an environment in which girls can grow and blossom.

For a brief history of Malala's struggles in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, watch this video.  I warn, however, that there is some graphic content in it:

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf assured his support to Malala's family and said:
"Today we have gathered here to pay tribute to the bravery and courage of Malala Yousafzai. The nation stands united in condemning the brutality and degradation of those who perpetrated this crime and the poisoned mindset that seeks to destroy the soul of our nation. The attack on Malala is not a crime against the individual. It is a crime against humanity. An attack on our moral and social values."
The youth today, the world over, is articulate, assertive and fearless.  We have seen revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria which were initiated by the new, thinking generation. We need to have faith in their ability to change the world for the better. However, it has always been difficult for women to organize themselves into a cohesive group due to their isolation, family and religious backgrounds, sheltered upbringing, and social stratification. In short, girls/women come with certain pre-existing conditions that deny them insurance for a happy, healthy life. It is extremely rare that girls like Malala come out and speak up for the cause of all women.  Malala Zindabad.

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