Awarding the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai has placed the issue of educational rights for women and girls front and center on the global scene. The 2012 assassination attempt against Yousafzai was a pivotal moment in the fight for girls' educational rights, in large part due to the resulting global awareness for this pressing issue.
Unfortunately, the impact of the attack against Malala has not been translated into real change. The number of women and girls who do not attend school has grown, and is predicted to continue growing in years to come. Among those locations where educational rights for girls remain under the most attack is Malala's native Pakistan.
Once again, the global community is in the rare position of having its eye turned toward this sweeping issue, which at present keeps as many as three-quarters of girls in the country from attending school. That means there is no better time for those within as well as outside of Pakistan to push for those needed to secure the futures of young women in the country. But is Pakistan prepared to make a real effort to secure the right to education for its young women?
Why $10 Million Is Not Enough
Unfortunately, those efforts that have been made still seem to be nothing more than token gestures designed to appease onlookers from other countries. The most noted and oft heralded gesture made by the Pakistani government is the donation of a $10 million educational fund named in honor of Malala.
Though the gesture is far more sweeping than any other in the past to secure the educational rights of girls, it does not address the main problem at hand. A sum of $10 million can serve to build schools, pay salaries for teachers, and pay for books and materials for young female students. What it cannot do is protect those teachers and students from the very real threat to their lives that they face on a daily basis, simply because they have chosen to pursue their right to education.
Malala Yousafzai is without a doubt the most famous example of violence sustained by a woman - or, in this case, a fourteen-year-old girl - as a part of the Taliban's campaign against educational rights for women. Shot in the head by a gunman on the way home from taking an exam, the now seventeen-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has become an advocate for educational rights for all girls on a global scale.
Countless other women and girls - students, teachers, and advocates alike - have been attacked and murdered as a result of this campaign of terror. Schools have been shot at and bombed for daring to allow female students within their halls. However, as of yet the Pakistani government has not offered its protection to either schools or students, and the $10 million allotted to help support educational rights for girls will not be used for this purpose.
While the actual infrastructure needed to support the cause of educational rights for girls, the primary issue at hand is clearly ensuring the safety of young women who choose to attend school. Millions of young women in Pakistan do not attend school at present. For many of those girls, it is not issues such as personal religious belief, familial obligation, or poverty that keep them at home, but the very real danger that they face by attempting to pursue their educational rights.
Ten million dollars may seem like a large sum of money, but it is worthless if it cannot or will not be used to protect the young women of Pakistan. No amount of money can bring back a lost life, and no amount of money can undo the damage caused by generation upon generation of girls forcibly kept from attending school.
The Prognosis for Girls' Educational Rights in Pakistan
Though Malala Yousafzai remains one of the most important ambassadors for her native country on a global level, she has chosen to undertake the remainder of her education in the United Kingdom. It is not difficult to see why. Though she has received some praise among the people of her country, including other advocates for girls' educational rights, she has been vilified in the media and remains a controversial figure among the general public.
This attitude towards Malala, who has quickly reached iconic status as a proponent of women's rights on a global scale, is an indicator of just how far Pakistan has to go before it can be said that the country is truly making an effort to secure educational rights for young women.
In that respect, the outlook for girls' educational rights in the country grows increasingly grim. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is forcing a country content with inaction to secure the rights of its female citizens.
On paper, measures have been taken to push for the rights of girls. The educational rights of women are ostensibly protected in the country's constitution. Gestures such as the $10 million donation in Malala's name seem to indicate that officials in the country are willing to put forth the effort to make the dreams of girls like Malala a reality. The attacks, murders, and bombings that plague the country paint a very different picture.
As of right now, more attention than ever has been drawn to the plight of young women in Pakistan. However, little has been done since the fateful shooting of Malala Yousafzai that brought the issue into the global spotlight. Despite pledging $10 million to the Malala fund, the amount of spending on education in Pakistan remains in a steady decline - down from 2.8% of the GNP in 1999 to 2.4% in 2012. And though cursory efforts have been made to protect certain schools that have been threatened by the Taliban, over three thousand schools remain damaged or in ruins after being bombed.
And while schools are being built, advocates for education in the country point out that they are rarely - if ever - being built where they are truly needed. The hardest hit areas, and the areas where the most women remain uneducated and illiterate, are in rural areas of Pakistan where the Taliban's hold remains strongest.
It is a frustrating situation. While the promise of brand new schools and textbooks may paint a rosy picture, it does nothing to help girls and their families when they are forced to decide whether their immediate safety or their educational future is more important to them.
Malala Yousafzai is a uniquely brave individual who took a stand in an impossible situation. However, that impossible situation is not unique and is one that millions of girls live with every day. The future of girls' educational rights remains dim and will remain so until the government of Pakistan is prepared to make a real commitment to the safety and protection of its girls.