Education International
Education International

Education unionists mobilise for girls’ education on Malala Day

published 9 July 2013 updated 12 July 2013

EI affiliates around the world join the events being coordinated by the offices of the UN Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown on 12 July, to celebrate Malala Yousafzai’s sixteenth birthday and renew the call for all governments to guarantee equitable quality education for all, especially girls.

Malala Yousafzai became known to the world after the Taliban tried to kill her: she was shot at point blank range as she sat on a bus with her friends, returning home from school in the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley of Pakistan in October 2012. Malala was targeted by the Taliban because of her outspoken demands for girls to be able to attend school after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley in 2009, and issued an edict that all schools should be closed. She first came to prominence through the blog she wrote for the BBC under the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’, meaning ‘Cornflower’ in Urdu. Malala used her blog to tell the world what it was like to live in a Taliban-controlled area, expressing her fears and those of her girlfriends that they would have no future because they could not go to school.

EI strongly condemned the attack on Malala and her friends. As 2012 drew to a close and during the first quarter of 2013, it became clear that the Taliban were deadly serious in their attempts to put an end to children’s education. In March of this year a teacher at a girls’ school was murdered as she walked to school in the Khyber District, and a male school principal was murdered and scores of school children injured in Karachi.

Rather than silencing Malala, the Taliban’s attempt to murder her has strengthened her resolve to keep fighting for girls’ education, and won her millions of supporters around the world. Indeed, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has taken up Malala’s cause, organising a petition to put pressure on the Pakistani government as well as the United Nations(UN) to safeguard girls’ access to education and guarantee their safety at school.

Malala Day: a special birthday for an exceptional teenager

On 12 July, Malala will celebrate her sixteenth birthday by addressing the highest leadership of the UN. Youth leaders from across the world will stage a the very first youth ‘sit-in’ of the UN, and Malala will present UN leaders with a Youth Outcomes Document, entitled ‘The Youth Resolution: the World We Want’, which outlines education demands developed by young people, for young people. A delegation of seven young teachers from Egypt, Honduras, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Pakistan and the USA will represent EI. This event in New York will be paralleled by events hosted by EI affiliates in different parts of the world.

In Morocco, EI affiliates will host an event in Marakkech to commemorate Malala Day and announce the presentation of an inaugural UN Special Envoy for Global Education’s Youth Courage Award for Education to Raouia Ayache. This 12 year-old girl was told by the Moroccan Minister for Education that she should be looking for a husband rather than attending school. EI lodged a complaintwith the Special Envoy’s office, which resulted in this recognition of Raouia’s bravery in returning to school after such public humiliation and teasing from her peers.

The CNEH in Haiti will be hosting a local event, to discuss the local challenges faced by teachers and the barriers to girls’ equal participation in education in the Haitian context. Many EI affiliates, including UEN in Norway, AOB in the Netherlands and AEU in Australia, have provided high visibility to the Malala Day event on their websites, urging their members to sign the petition that Malala will present to the UN on July 12th. During the NEA’s Representative Assembly (USA), and the CTF’s Annual General Meeting (Canada), a letter from the Special Envoy, Gordon Brown, was read out urging participants to sign the petition in favour of girls’ full access to education everywhere in the world.

Building on Malala Day

There is no doubt that Malala Yousafzai paid a terrible price to put the issue of girls’ right to education at the very top of the international education community’s agenda; but it may be that this has woken the world up to the crisis in education in a way that nothing else managed to do.

With the EI Mobilising for Quality Education initiative, EI and its affiliates will continue to build on a long history of advocating for girls’ right to education, and for every child, irrespective of gender, where they live, how rich or poor they are, or whether they are part of a marginalised group, to be able to benefit from equitable quality public education.