The right of education to all children is so fundamental as to be virtually uncontested within the Western world. But for many of the world's children, education is not a right, but a privilege - and one that millions of children are not afforded on the basis of their gender alone. It is only in recent years that the fight for girls' educational rights became an issue of global prominence, in large part due to the efforts of one young woman.
Malala Yousafzai is a girl with a voice in a world where women remain voiceless. However, her decision to speak up against the injustices done to her and other young women was not without consequence.
On October 9, 2012 Malala was riding the bus on her way home from taking an exam when a Taliban gunman boarded the vehicle and shot her in the head. Her road to recuperation would lead her to seek treatment in the United Kingdom, where she resides to this day.
When the shooting occurred, Malala had been an advocate for girls' educational rights for three years and had already begun to accumulate followers on a global level for her heroism and activism. She was fourteen years old at the time.
Now, only two years later, the young woman has reached a new milestone. At 17, she has become the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize in any category. Malala shares the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Indian educational and children's rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi.
The Ongoing Fight for Girls' Educational Rights in Pakistan
It is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement. However, the fight for educational rights is far from ended. The assassination attempt against Malala may have been the most notable such instance of this kind of violence, due in large part to her growing celebrity prior to the event, but numerous other women and girls have been violently attacked and murdered - all for the crime of trying to obtain an education.
While it would be reassuring to think that these crimes occurred before the attempt against Malala's life, numerous such occurrences have taken place since. Among the most heinous of these events have been the shooting deaths of female teachers, the burning of a girls' high school, and the bombings of over a thousand schools that actively supported the rights of girls to achieve an education.
The Pakistani government has assured the global community that it is taking steps to ensure the educational rights of its girls -- a right that is supported by the Constitution of the country. However, a foundation set up in Malala's honor -- one that the Pakistani government has promised to fund with $10 million -- seems to be much more of a pacification effort than an earnest attempt by the country to undo the damage done by these militants.
Malala herself noted that significant lack of support for these issues in a petition written in protest of the murder of Shahnaz Nazli, one of the teachers killed in these attacks. Though funding can build schools, it cannot prevent them from being bombed or burned to the ground, and it certainly cannot prevent the deaths of those young girls seeking an education or the teachers fighting for that right.
Continuing attitudes toward Malala and her activism in the country are evidence enough that the fight for girls' educational rights remains on shaky ground. Protests at a school named in Malala's honor drew over 300 individuals. Meanwhile, the young woman continues to be viciously attacked and criticized through media in the country.
Pakistan has proven time and again that it is unwilling to fight for the rights of its children to attain an education. Currently, three-quarters of all girls in the country do not attend school, and this is a number that is steadily growing. Unless girls can safely go to school without threat of attack, this number will only continue to grow - and more girls who, like Malala, simply wanted an education will continue to die.
The Outlook for Girls' Educational Rights
The pressing question, then, is what the future holds for girls' educational rights. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala, though perhaps a year late, indicates that the global community is ready to begin a real and serious discussion about what can be done to ensure that girls in Pakistan, and other countries where the suppression of women remains a pressing issue, have the opportunity to learn.
Perhaps most notable about her achievement is the hope that it brings to her fellow students back home in her native Swat Valley. Though she remains a controversial figure in Pakistan at large, her achievement was celebrated by those who best understand the struggle that she went through to achieve an education.
Badrai Khan, a 19-year-old college student from the region, described the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala as "an achievement for all girl students of Pakistan." One young shopkeeper discussed his pride in Malala and said that, inspired by her, he urged his father to put his sisters into school. Though small, these first steps are the clearest sign that we have of a brighter future for girls' education in the country.
However, perhaps the most notable indicator of how far the country has to go is the fact that Malala Yousafzai has chosen to continue her education in England, despite being perhaps the most prominent Pakistani ambassador in the world at present.
In speaking about the honor that has been given to her, Malala has stated her pride at being the first Pakistani and the first young person to achieve the award. Additionally, she has assured the world that her activism in the fight for girls' education rights is only just beginning.
In a struggle where even the smallest victories must be celebrated, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai is a triumph. Through her tremendous courage and sacrifice, awareness of the struggle for girls' educational rights has reached an all time high.
And, of course, one cannot forget Malala Yousafzai's personal triumph, most poignantly expressed through the Tweet that followed the announcement that she would be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize: "Malala will make her first statement after school."