Opinion: we must act to make sure all girls have access to education

Yesterday, in the Swat region of Pakistan, a 14 year old girl was shot. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and she was walking home from school with her friend when she was shot in the side of the head. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the shooting.

The question on all our minds is ‘Why would anyone try and kill a 14 year old girl?’.

Because Malala Yousafzai stood up for something that scares and horrifies the Taliban – she dared to speak out for girls’ right to an education.

Malala was 11 years old when she started writing about life under the Taliban – two years after they closed her school. They have since been ejected from the region, but Malala has continued to speak out. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work to highlight the Taliban’s activities and her fight for girls access to education. She even had a school named after her.

This isn’t the first time the Taliban has stooped so low as to attack children. They have been linked to arson attacks on schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as being linked to poisonings in girl’s schools.  Thousands of students have been forced to stay at home.

For the Taliban, educating women is un-Islamic and immodest. Girls over the age of eight were denied an education under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The women’s university was quickly shut down shortly after they came to power. A network of secret schools for girls was set up, but the risks if they were discovered were severe. Even after being removed from power, their influence is still visible.

It’s easy to see why the Taliban would want to restrict education.  They do so in the name of Islam, but a brand of Islam unrecognisable to the majority of Muslims worldwide. Banning women’s education has more to do with power and control than religion.

When we are educated, we are given the potential to shape our own world. Literacy and numeracy are critical for employment, self-sufficiency and independence. It allows us to live our own lives, to think for ourselves, to develop our full potential. But without education, we have no future, no way of choosing our own direction. Without knowledge to base our own decisions on, what choice is there but to blindly follow the path that others set out for us.  The uneducated population is easily controlled.

Malala is proof of what education can achieve. She has not just shaped her own future, but the future of every girl in Swat, and the future of Pakistan. She has said in the past that she wants to go into politics when she is older, focusing on education. Malala has dreams – not just for herself but for her whole country. No wonder the Taliban find her such a threat.

But access to education isn’t just an issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Worldwide, 75 million girls are missing out on an education. That’s one in three  girls who are being denied control over their own futures – denied the ability to escape poverty, to fulfil their potential.

Tomorrow, Thursday 11 October, is the first International Day of the Girl, and Plan are speaking out about the need for women’s education. If you believe, like Malala does, like I do, that everyone deserves an education, sign Plan’s petition, and Raise Your Hand.

* Sophie Bridger is a former by-election candidate and President of Liberal Youth Scotland. She was Scotland’s diversity champion and lives in Glasgow.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “Worldwide, 75 million girls are missing out on an education. That’s one in three…”

    So there are only 225 millions girls in the world??

  • Richard Dean 10th Oct '12 - 12:24pm

    Yes, absolutely, we must support courageous girls like Malala Yousafzai, and the less courageous ones too. People need guidance on effective ways to help. And what will happen in Afgahnistan after the NATA withdrawal in 2014? Let’s hope Ban-Kimoon finds a solution.

  • Richard Dean 10th Oct '12 - 12:29pm

    NATO not NATA of course, sorry for typo (old age!). The petition is easy to sign the UN needs signatories to give validiaty to its campaign. The website http://www.plan-uk.org/about-us/the-difference-we-make/international-day-of-the-girl/ says:

    Worldwide, girls carry the burden of poverty more than anyone and 75 million girls are currently denied an education. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

  • I would like to see Girls and young women in Islamic countries offered an education, but not at the cost that there is a constant east west conflict where we try to enforce our “democratic values” at gunpoint, or by drone, smart bomb, assassination or similar. Malala Yousafzai demonstrates that force has failed and aid has failed.

  • Miranda Whitehead 11th Oct '12 - 9:37am

    Alistair, I think that Malala Yousafzai’s courage and example demonstrates the struggle that all oppressed people undergo to uphold their human rights.There will always be someone who will try to prevent the power that education or the vote gives individuals, and groups, and the way that is done is usually by violence and intimidation.If this young girl is brave enough to be counted as standing up for an education for herself and her sisters then we have a duty to support them in any way we can. Signing a petition is the very least that we should do.

  • Whilst ‘access’ to education is a worth initial target, our ultimate goal must be that ALL girls receive an education of the same standard as they can obtain here without fear. If that means confronting head on the primitive and pseudo-religious ideas about the role of women that dominate some societies in various parts of the world, then so be it.

    We forget, because it was so long ago, that it took many decades and battles for Europe to throw off the tyranny of the Roman Church. However, this has lead to the largely beneficial reformation of societies and of the Roman Church and the rise of modern science. So don’t expect it to be easy for other societies to go through similar fundamental change – as we can see (predominantly all male) fundamentalist groups are opposing change in the name of a religion just as much as Rome did all those years ago…

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