- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
Speaking on a 16th birthday that she nearly didn’t live to see, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights advocate targeted by the Taliban, called on an assembly at the United Nations on Friday to invest in educational opportunities for children around the globe and particularly for girls in the developing world.
She described her ordeal matter-of-factly, saying, “On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.”
And she pushed back against her assailants’ worldview. The Taliban thinks “that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school,” she observed. “The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity, and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.”
But while the Taliban may have failed in its efforts to silence critics like Malala, Pakistan has made little headway in increasing access to education and halting violence against children in recent years. The most recent U.N. data, tracked by the Guardian, show that gender parity at all levels of education in Pakistan has plateaued, with 82 girls to every 100 boys in primary school and 73 girls to every 100 boys in secondary school — and this does not include the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Taliban has exerted the most influence.
Despite the dearth of official statistics from the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a recent report by Save the Children cites Pakistani intelligence reports indicating that “since 2008, 995 schools and 35 colleges have been destroyed in the FATA and KP province.” Students, especially girls, have also been targeted in acid attacks, and just in June, a bomb attack targeted a school bus.
According to the Pakistani newspaper the Nation, Pakistan does not keep a national database on violence against children. But a report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, released in May, identified 5,659 cases, including 943 murders, 1,170 injuries, and 547 incidences of torture.
“So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism, and let us pick up our books and pens,” Malala concluded today. “They are our most powerful weapons.” She has an uphill battle to fight.