What It Really Will Take to Educate Pakistan's Girls

04/08/2013 12:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2013

It didn't take a week for the international community's celebration of now 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai's return to school to be interrupted by a hail of bullets that should remind us all that for every story of redemption and triumph for the girls and women of Pakistan, there are a dozen stories that end in abject tragedy.

And until the Pakistani government starts truly cracking down on militants who slaughter girls and blow up schools, the dream of gender equality in education in Pakistan will remain little more than that -- a dream.

In an attack that closely resembled the October, 2012, attempt on Malala's life, two men on a motorcycle pulled up alongside 41-year-old Shahnaz Nazli on March 27 as she was leaving the all-girls schools in Northwest Pakistan where she taught and unleashed a torrent of gunfire.

Unlike with Malala, who was targeted for assassination not far from the same location, the militants accomplished their goal this time around. Bibi died on the spot in front of her son.

As is often the case in the tribal regions, details about the shooting are murky, but what's clear is that yet again, those opposed to girls being educated are perpetrating heinous acts of violence against those whose only transgression is to try to go to school.

Though Malala's case drew widespread attention primarily because an attempt was made on her life when she was just 14, and due to her status as a leader in the girls education movement at such a tender age, the violence in Northwest Pakistan has continued unabated in the six months since.

• On New Year's Day, gunmen -- again on motorcycle -- shot and killed five female teachers.

• A day earlier, militants blew up a government school in the Jamrud District (site of the attack on Nazli).

• In early November, the Farooqi Girls High School in Lahore was burned to the ground.

After the attempt on Malala's life raised the issue of girls' education in Pakistan to a global level, the Pakistani government has responded with heartfelt sympathy, appropriate verbiage and pledges of millions of dollars to improve girls education.

Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari promised to raise a $10 million "Malala fund" to promote schooling around the world for girls.

"We will increase resources for education and at least four percent of GDP would be allocated by the year 2018," Pakistani Senator Razina Alam recently said.

And yet, after all of the pledges of money and all of the kind words, six months post-Malala, Pakistan is no closer to gender equality in the schools because Pakistan doesn't have an education problem.

It has a security problem.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that it is Malala herself, and Nazli's husband, Ishtiaq Ahmed who seem to best understand this fact.

"There was no security from the government," Ahmed said. "Not just for my wife, but for all the teachers. My wife was martyred while she was on duty."

And Malala, in authoring a petition in the wake of Nazli's murder, called "on the president and government of Pakistan to end the killings and violence that prevent girls' education and to ensure all girls can go to school... and for all girls and all teachers to be protected and given security to enable them to enjoy their basic right to be educated."

As it stands today, it is simply not safe for girls to attend school in Pakistan, and that's why one in every 12 of the world's "out of school" children is Pakistani.

So as we celebrate Malala's return to school, let's not forgot one important fact: She has chosen to continue her education in England, not in Pakistan.

Is there any doubt why?