10/30/2012 06:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Girl, Interrupted

The Taliban's attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai created a grotesque counterpoint to The International Day of the Girl, celebrated on October 11. She was shot in the head by the Taliban while taking the bus to school simply for speaking up and seeking an education for herself. And as the world watches and hopes for Malala's recovery, the future of girls has never seemed more precarious, or more important.

According to CARE, 25,000 girls, females under the age of 18, are forced into an arranged marriage EVERY DAY in the so-called "developing world." Many of these thousands of forced marriages involve girls as young as age seven or eight.

CARE and other human rights organizations declared International Day of the Girl Child as a Day of Action to End Child Marriage. Because there is no such thing as child-marriage -- it's an oxymoron. Marriage in any modern sense is consensual, so what happens to one in three girls worldwide is child-rape by another name. Also keep this in mind: girls who complete a secondary school education, according to CARE, are six times less likely to become child-"brides."

We may comfort ourselves with the notion that this sort of thing doesn't happen in America. Well, let's not get too comfortable: Malala's message needs to be heard everywhere, including here.

Even if you are able to push this aside with "it can't happen to my daughter" reasoning, consider some of the other stats discussed by Ms. Anna Bahr of Ms. Magazine, involving our Western obsession with body-image and our hyper-sexualizing of girls:
  • Fifty four percent of rapes inflicted upon women -- or girls -- in the U.S. occur before their 18th birthdays.
  • The U.S. teen pregnancy-rate is the highest in the developed world.
  • The average rate of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years old

Deeply institutionalized gender inequality permeates every aspect of society, at every level, just about everywhere. To break its grip, girls must be empowered, women must be educated and respected, and civilized people everywhere, men as well as women, must stand together to protect them.

Because it simply is not enough to be horrified, take action now by signing the petition for Malala and use your voice to advocate for girls' right to education. Once 1 million signatures are collected UN education envoy, Gordon Brown, will deliver the call in person to the president of Pakistan, and the Pakistani media. Do it now!

This blog is part of a series called "Malala's Impact," which highlights the need for global education. The series is launched in partnership with the Global Day of Action for Malala campaign, which takes place on November 10.