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  • Human Rights Research Center

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful”: The Importance of Girls’ Education

March 6, 2024



Note: This is the first article in a series that will cover girls’ education, the Taliban, Afghanistan, and girls’ education/gender apartheid in Afghanistan.


In October 2012, then-14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school in the Swat Valley in Pakistan by the Taliban. An armed member of the Taliban boarded her school bus and asked, “Who is Malala?”. She identified herself and, after being shot, woke up 10 long days later on the other side of the world in an English hospital. After a long recovery process, she and her family stayed in the United Kingdom rather than returning to Pakistan for safety reasons, given the Taliban group who tried to kill her promised to try again.


What was her “crime”? Why would a 14-year-old girl be the target of an assassination attempt? Malala had dared to encourage girls to pursue their education and dreams while she, along with many other girls in countries under Taliban control, were facing restrictive education policies, many of whom had been completely ousted from their schools. Malala started running an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu at age 11 that documented her personal experience as a girl trying to attend school in the face of gender inequality and threats to her safety. The young girl became a well-known advocate for girls’ education and started going on television, stripping her of her anonymity and subsequently, her protection. Through it all, she was supported by her father, who was a teacher. Her honest, passionate words resonated around the world, her “I am afraid” and “I may not go to school again” echoing what was in the hearts of girls facing similar dangerous situations. At the time, most people, including government officials, were too afraid to publicly oppose the Taliban due to past leaders being murdered for doing so. This reality lends credence to her quote,  “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful”. Malala’s voice, that one voice, empowered people all over to speak up and hear her story.


Malala Yousafzai went on to start the Malala Fund, an organization that aims to improve girls’ education worldwide. She has been a vocal advocate for girls’ education and gender equality globally and is pictured below at the United Nations in 2017. As the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, her impact and work are both important and necessary. Why does girls’ education matter so much, and why was this brave young woman willing to risk her life to stand up for girls everywhere?



Approximately 129 million girls are not sitting in classrooms worldwide. In countries struck by war and conflict, girls become 2.5 times more likely than boys not to be enrolled in school. As girls grow older, they become more prone to dropping out of school. Barriers to equal educational opportunities can include patriarchal beliefs about females embedded in everyday attitudes as well as the law, a cultural norm of marrying and having children young, prolonged periods of unrest and violence, the destruction of schools, educational expenses, not enough schools in certain areas, and a gender imbalance of school faculty (less female teachers).



Girls' education matters because when girls are forced to drop out of school, whether due to family commitments based on traditional gender roles and/or militia groups like the Taliban or any of the above reasons, they suffer and so does the world. Child marriage, gender-based violence, and poverty are just some examples of the woes that befall girls who lose their educational opportunities. When girls are allowed to complete their first 12 or so years of schooling without as many obstacles, economies grow, the climate crisis is in better hands, and gender equality improves.


Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Afghanistan is the only country in the world that bans girls from receiving an education, a clear violation of international law and their human rights. Women and girls make up 49.7% of the planet’s population, so the future is indeed female. If we want to usher in a better future for the next generations, girls must be educated and unshackled from outdated, oppressive laws.


 

Glossary


  • Apartheid- Apartheid, or “apartness” in the language of Afrikaans, was a system of legislation that upheld segregation against non-white citizens of South Africa. Article 2 of the Apartheid Convention defines the crime of apartheid as covering “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”.

  • Child marriage- marriage that occurs when at least one of the spouses is younger than 18 years old.

  • Gender-based violence- violence (can be physical, sexual, or psychological) perpetuated against people based on their gender, usually against women and girls.

  • Taliban- a fundamentalist militia organization that rules parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, enforcing extremist policies that relegate women and girls to the home.

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)- a 1948 international legal document that outlines the basic human rights every person is entitled to, including the universal right to education.

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