Ever-escalating violence against girls in Pakistan is causing the murder count to rise and forcing under-threat teenagers to leave the country, fleeing for safety to the rest of the world.
Today, Shazia Ramzan is free in the United Kingdom after escaping death threats from the Taliban. Shazia was one of three girls, including Malala Yousafzai, who were seriously injured when a Taliban gunman attacked their school bus last October. On Saturday, Shazia and Malala were reunited for the first time since the attack.
While Malala was quickly flown to the UK to have emergency surgery on her head injuries, Shazia spent weeks in a Pakistani hospital recovering from neck and shoulder wounds. She tried to resume her schooling in the dangerous Swat area of Pakistan -- but last week, after a massacre of female students which left 14 dead at a women's college in Quetta, Shazia decided to leave Pakistan and take up the offer of a scholarship in Britain close to her lifelong friend Malala.
Just how dangerous it is for girls like Malala and Shazia was demonstrated by the killing this weekend of two sisters, 15 and 16, simply because a video of them dancing in the rain had circulated around their local area. Making the video was said to have 'stained the family's honor' -- and so Noor Basra and Noor Sheza were shot while playing outside their home in Chilas, alongside their mother who also died.
The campaign for girls' education in Pakistan gained huge support because of the public outrage last October at the shooting of Malala. Then, two million Pakistanis -- a million of them out-of-school children -- joined with sympathizers from across the world in calling on the Pakistani government to ensure that education for girls was universal and free.
At the time, the Pakistani president agreed to provide three million stipends to enable girls to go to school. The political parties in Pakistan agreed that they had to double the budget for basic education -- but since then there has been a stepping up of violence against girls.
Only a few weeks ago a teacher was shot dead as she travelled by car to the girls' school where she worked. On a recent Saturday morning in Karachi, a gunman opened fire on a school prize-giving ceremony at a school that Malala herself had visited in support of girls' education. The principal was shot dead and many pupils injured.
But in spite of rising violence, girls in Pakistan are more resolute than ever in standing up for their rights. Malala herself, undeterred by the threats to her life, has issued a message calling on all supporters to sign a new petition demanding universal education. She will present it to Ban Ki-moon when she addresses the United Nations on July 12 - the day of her sixteenth birthday.
Now safely in the UK, Shazia is also planning to put the case for girls' education as she starts a new life in college, with hopes to be a doctor. Her aim is to ensure that schools are built for all out-of-school girls -- not only in Pakistan but around the world.
The July 12 Malala Day events, which will include activities in cities across the world, will lead on to the September UN General Assembly meetings, when leaders will be asked to agree a plan to secure extra school places for girls and boys at a rate of 20 million a year for the next three years. Leaders must agree on measures to help the most marginalized girls -- especially child brides, child domestic laborers and girls who have been trafficked. And the package will focus on pressuring countries like Pakistan, where discrimination against girls is rife, to step up security to protect girls both at school and on their way to and from home.
The fight for girls' education is the civil rights struggle of our generation. It will need a determined and vocal global campaign to make it a priority in countries where girls' needs have been neglected. Malala Day on July 12th will be the chance for the world's young people to call on world leaders once and for all to put education first.
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