Malala: Nations Should Spend Money on ‘Books, Not Bombs’

In an event co-hosted by Foreign Policy in Washington, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai called on governments to redirect their military spending to schools.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography.
Photo by Jason Dixson Photography.

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban after fighting for her right to go to school, called on the United States and other leading powers Monday to devote more money towards providing educational opportunities to needy children around the world.

“World leaders…are only focusing on six years of education, or nine years,” she said at a panel event co-hosted by Foreign Policy, Vital Voices, and the Malala Fund at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “This is not how we are going to achieve success in our future. It is necessary we provide 12 years of quality education to every child.”

Yousafzai has become the face of the global movement for women’s education and in 2014, when she was just 17, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking to a crowd of more than 150 at the FP event, Yousafzai emphasized the role poor governance plays in hindering education — especially for girls — and said countries should spend more on schools and less on their militaries. “Books, not bullets,” she said. “Books, not bombs.”

The now 18-year-old, who grew up in a Taliban stronghold in Swat Valley, Pakistan, watched as her hometown fell to Taliban extremists. After speaking out against the group’s restrictions on female education, she was shot by members of the Islamist movement on her way home from school in 2012, when she was 15. The shooting damaged her hearing in one ear and left her with nerve damage on the left side of her face.

Yousafzai is finishing her high school education in England because she is afraid that the Taliban might kill her if she returns home. She’s far from cowed, however. Instead, Yousafzai uses her fame to call attention to other armed conflicts that are leaving children caught in the crossfire.

In July 2014, she traveled to Nigeria for her 17th birthday and met with then-President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss the more than 260 girls who had been kidnapped from their boarding school in northeast Nigeria just three months earlier. On Monday, she recalled asking Nigerian officials to offer her statistics on how many children were able to attend school in Nigeria. They didn’t have the data and instead tried redirecting her to numbers from the United Nations. That, she said, was proof that education was not being taken seriously enough. Without that kind of data, Yousafzai said, “you don’t have the…basic information to go forward.”

And in the case of the Chibok girls, “everyone was blaming each other and always doing nothing,” she said.

Yousafzai has visited both Jordan and Lebanon to spend time with Syrian refugees, and opted to spend her 18th birthday breaking ground on a school at a refugee camp near the Syrian border in Lebanon.

For the displaced, the struggle to receive an education increases exponentially.  Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father and an educator who inspired her to stand up to the Taliban, accompanied her to visit Syrian refugees. At one refugee camp in Jordan, the older Yousafzai said, there were 60,000 school-aged children and only three schools.

“The Syrian children and Syrian crisis is the worst in the world,” he said. “When you meet the girls their passion…for education is remarkable. They want to learn.”

Yousafzai’s remarks Monday on the need for better data on schooling coincide with the announcement of the launch of a secondary girls education index, which will be issued by FP and the Malala Fund each year and offer comprehensive data that will help determine what donor and developing countries can do to better ensure 12 years of education for every girl.

Malala’s father added Monday that while education for all children is crucial to bettering the future, education means something beyond arithmetic and languages for female students.

“For girls, education is emancipation, liberation, [and] independence,” he said.

Photo Credit: Jason Dixson for FP

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