Malala’s moment

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Malala’s moment

The drive to promote education can never be a pro-West issue

By Shivani Mohan (Issues)

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Published: Wed 17 Jul 2013, 6:01 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:50 AM

My nine-year-old daughter is a bright student. Yet getting her to sit still for half-an-hour and study is a task. There are just too many distractions for kids these days. This Sunday I sat her down and made her watch Malala’s address to the United Nations. She watched in rapt attention, riveted.

That Malala is a blessed child is evident. Dignified and poised in a pale pink salwar kameez with a shawl belonging to late Benazir Bhutto draped on her slender shoulders, Malala spoke with a conviction and confidence rare for her age.

Her message is something that reaches out and is relevant to every society in the world. Who would disagree with the importance of educating a girl child? A girl educated is a family educated. For many of us who got education on a platter, it may be difficult to fathom how a large cross-section of girls (and boys) face major hurdles in receiving a good education.

It is estimated that only 12 per cent of girls in Pakistan make it to high school. Pakistan has the second highest number of illiterates after India. Yet only 2.3 per cent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product is allocated to education. It spends seven times more on its military.

In her impassioned address, Malala mentioned that besides her parents, her inspirations are Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Martin Luther King and Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and Baacha Khan, Buddha, Lord Jesus and Mother Teresa. She humbly declared, “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds who are not only speaking out but struggling for peace, education and equality.”

Malala, who has been ranked 6th on Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list, sadly received a lukewarm response from fellow Pakistanis. It was particularly unnerving to note debates breaking out on social media about the intentions of her address and campaigning. There was a slew of pedantic youth pontificating on how she has become a parrot and puppet of the UN and the event, a clever ‘geo-political ploy’. Many called it a PR game and her speech as written by experts and rehearsed.

Not for a moment did these detractors consider the trauma she must’ve gone through in the last few months and yet how proud and tall she stands. Her message is of global importance and one that has no caveats attached. The fact is today, we as diverse societies of the world need to know and address not one but all factors that prevent girls from getting educated. It could be poverty in many countries, ignorance in others. It is often also the quality of education that is circumspect.

Education after all is not about filling a classroom with children and taking roll calls. How much does the education reach the hearts and minds of the children? How much does this education empower them to choose the right paths in life? India with the highest population of illiterates in the world can well relate to the impediments to education. Poverty, ignorance, population explosion and lack of infrastructure make providing education to multitudes a huge challenge. There are so many Malalas who face challenges to education every day.

Watching Malala’s cherubic face, I was reminded of a simple village girl called Baljit I knew in interior Punjab, who would keep skipping her school and come and babysit my daughter. I would reprimand her as to why she was skipping school when the government was giving girls free education. She would vehemently protest, “The teacher keeps knitting sweaters and tells us to go collect firewood for her from the nearby thickets. Why should I go to school to collect firewood?”

Baljit had a point. The scourge of female foeticide is largely prevalent as daughters are looked upon as a burden due to the practice of dowry. It is only through good, relevant education that in coming generations, these girls can be empowered to be financially independent.

The drive to promote education can never be a pro-West or anti-West issue. It is a common cause and concern shared by all and deserves the support of all, irrespective of any political or religious agendas.

Shivani Mohan is an India-based writer

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