The United Nations celebrated the courage of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, shooting victim and advocate for female education in Pakistan, by declaring Nov. 10 as Malala Day.
More than 100,000 people signed an online petition to nominate the young woman for a Nobel Peace Prize. United Nations Special Envoy on Education Gordon Brown visited Pakistan on Nov. 10 and handed President Asif Ali Zardari a petition with more than a million signatures in support of Yousafzai.
Yousafzai received support at home as well. Pakistani society widely decried the Oct. 9 Taliban shooting of the young activist.
Despite a climate of pro-education and anti-Taliban sentiment among the populace, officials and human rights groups warn that Pakistan remains unsafe for Yousafzai.
The Taliban has become more violent, says Irfan Ali, president of the Human Rights Commission for Social Justice based in Quetta, Pakistan. Whatever the general opinion of Taliban violence may be, “Pro-Taliban elements are everywhere, especially in the army, police, and intelligence,” says Ali.
“She must not come back, or she will be killed first by Pakistani intelligence services, then by the Taliban,” wrote Ali in an online interview with The Epoch Times. Yousafzai is currently in Britain recovering from her head wounds.
The Taliban has justified the shooting by saying that Yousafzai was promoting secularism and that her actions were contrary to Shariah (Islamic law).
“What the Taliban did to Malala and her classmates is clearly prohibited in Islam,” says Amina Rehman, a 15-year-old student in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
Another student in Islamabad, Maroosha Asim, says, “We are ready to stand behind her even if it means us losing our lives for the betterment of our country.”
Yousafzai’s father has been quoted by many media organizations as saying that his daughter will resume her studies when she returns to her home in Swat Valley, Pakistan.
The Taliban vows to continue its campaign against Yousafzai or anyone who follows in her footsteps. Pakistani Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak has announced extra precautions to avoid Taliban attacks.
“We have started a strategy to arm the schools’ watchmen and increase coordination among schools’ administration and police,” he told Inter Press Service (IPS), a global media outlet focused on marginalized communities.
Zawar Hussain, a government official and father of three girls studying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, told IPS, “My wife and I are very concerned about the security of our children because Taliban militants are now looking for soft targets like schoolgirls.”
Pakistani television is pervaded by robust debates on the issue and discussions about who is to blame for the mire Pakistan is in.
An Islamabad teen who did not want to be identified says, “I think the Malala issue is a conspiracy to make Pakistan look bad.” Although in the minority, some people say Yousafzai could be an American agent.
Yousafzai has won a step forward for education in her country. On Friday, the Pakistani government announced that the families of 3 million poor children will receive $2 every month if their children attend primary school, reports Pak Tribune.
Pakistan stands out as a country with one of the biggest problems in education, according to the latest “Education for All” global report commissioned by UNESCO. Approximately 5 million Pakistani children do not attend school, 3 million of whom are girls. About two-thirds of girls aged 7–16 who live in poverty have never been to school.
While acknowledging the tragedy of Yousafzai’s shooting, director of the report Pauline Rose said it has really brought the world’s attention to the plight young women face in countries like Pakistan.
“What Malala has done has really put the spotlight on the need for governments around the world to ensure that every child has the right of education,” said Rose in a telephone interview. “I hope that what happened with Malala will turn into good outcomes for all Pakistani girls and for herself.”
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