A month to the day that Malala Yousafzai was attacked by the Taliban, simply for insisting that she go to school, we are celebrating Malala Day: a global day of action to support the estimated 32 million girls worldwide who are denied the right to go to school every day. Today, UN special envoy for global education, Gordon Brown, is in Pakistan to deliver a petition containing more than a million signatures, to President Asif Ali Zardari, urging him to make education a reality for all Pakistani children, irrespective of gender.
People around the world are expected to hold vigils and demonstrations honouring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school. Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf saluted Malala’s courage and urged his countrymen to stand against the extremist mindset that led to her attack. Still, such demonstrations of support will not be easy to conduct in Pakistan, security fears in Malala’s hometown mean her schoolmates can not honour her in public.
Indeed, in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals casts a fearful shadow, and students at Malala’s Khushal Public School were forced to honour her in private: “We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles,” school principal Mariam Khalid told AFP. “We did not organise any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat.”
Despite the dangers, some children in Mingora were determined to speak out and pledged to follow Malala’s brave example: “Malala is a good friend of mine. She is brave and has honour and whoever attacked her did a terrible thing,” Asma Khan, 12, a student in Saroosh Academy, close to Malala’s school told AFP. “After the attack on her and her injuries, we have now more courage to study and now we will fulfil her mission to spread education everywhere.” Khan’s schoolmate Gul Para, 12, added: “Malala is the daughter of the nation and we are proud of her. She has stood by us and for our education up to now and now it is time that we should stand by her and complete her mission.”
Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Still, a second teenage girl has been threatened with assassination in Pakistan
following the Taliban’s failed attempt to murder Malala Yousafzai. Hina Khan has been subjected to a series of chilling warnings and her family have appealed to the government for protection. Like Malala, Hina Khan is from Swat and has been campaigning for girls schools since she was 13. Now aged 17, she says nothing will stop her campaign and that she has been praying for Malala’s recovery. “Girls’ education is too important to give up on,” she said. “We always knew the risks and just hope the attack on Malala and the threats against me will turn more people against the extremists and force the government to act.” Hina’s mother, Farhat, said she was proud of her daughter’s stand and insisted that their campaign for women’s rights and girls’ education would not be silenced by threats. She said: “Of course there will be more problems now that we have gone public and talked about their threats but if we don’t fight then who will?”
The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012, published by UNESCO, confirms the scale of the task facing Pakistan. More than three million girls do not attend school – the second highest figure in the world. Human Rights Watch has recorded 96 reports on attacks against school so far this year.