THE BLOG
10/11/2012 10:56 am ET | Updated Dec 11, 2012

How to Celebrate the International Day of the Girl? Join Malala

Alamy

I had just gotten off the phone with my daughter in New York, who sometimes calls me as she walks to work to offer a few quick updates on life, work, and love, when my eyes caught a terrifying headline on the newspaper lying on my kitchen table. "Taliban gun down a girl who spoke up for rights." The dissonance between those two worlds, in those few seconds, could not have been more dramatic. It simply broke my heart. Malala Yousafzai, growing up in a small town in northern Pakistan, had started fighting for her rights -- and the rights of other girls in her community -- when she was 11 years old. She spoke out about her passion for education and her dream to be a doctor. But the Taliban considered such dreams were too dangerous. So they boarded her school bus yesterday, filled with young students, and shot Malala in the head, and wounded two others.

Her father had run one of the last schools in northern Pakistan that refused to obey the Taliban's rules to ban girls going to school. Malala raised her voice against this injustice, even then. "She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children," explains a local filmmaker. "Even adults didn't have a vision like hers." How true that is. Young leaders like Malala have not learned to wait for their rights to be handed to them. They don't believe anything can stop their dreams for the future. They only imagine what's possible. I'm sure the Taliban monsters who tried to kill her thought they would also kill others' dreams for a better life. But as tragic as this situation is, bullets and intimidation have never been able to stomp out our yearnings to be free, to find our own path, to voice our passions, and to live productive and meaningful lives. The swift public condemnation of this barbaric act across Pakistan -- and the world -- demonstrates its ultimate impotence.

A Taliban spokesman who claimed Malala had been a target said her crusade for education rights was an "obscenity" and a "symbol of Western culture." How wrong he is. As President Barack Obama said so eloquently at the United Nations a few weeks ago, "Freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values, they are universal values."

Yet as we are reminded every day, the forces that would deny those values, and clamp down on the rights of girls, and women, and minorities, are alive and well. Eman Mostafa, a young girl from a small village in southern Egypt, was shot and killed last month. Why? She dared to spit in the face of a man who was molesting her. Last Spring, youth from across Egypt, including young women, led efforts to overthrow a repressive dictatorship, and sought to forge a new vision for their country. Yet girls like Eman remain unprotected, and millions of others are being excluded from critical decisions that impact their rights and freedoms -- including the writing of Egypt's new Constitution.

We know why some will always try to deny women and girls the right to be educated and be equal members of society. They will have more control over their lives; they can contribute more to their communities; their children will be healthier, and far more likely to go to school themselves. They have a greater stake in the future, and thus will fight harder for their rights. Perhaps most important -- and threatening -- having found their own voices, they will help others find theirs.

Who does the future belong to? To extraordinarily brave individuals in every society, who choose to defy those who thrive on division and violence and hatred, and instead use their unmatched passion to build very different communities filled with hope and opportunity and possibilities. The future belongs, as well, to those who are inspired to join them in reshaping our world, including our own daughters.