Reminding us why education is so important

I had heard her story on the news and watched her interview with actor Emma Watson with great admiration, but it was only recently that I finally read Malala Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala. In case you didn’t know, Malala is a (now) 18-year-old woman from Pakistan who campaigns for the right to education, particularly for women. She came to the world’s attention when, at just 16 years old, she was shot in the face by the Taliban on her way home from school. She survived the attack and still carries out valuable work fighting for access to education for all children through the Malala Fund.

I learnt so much from her book. Malala outlines in charming detail the history and culture of her beloved homeland in the SWAT valley of northern Pakistan. She shows a great respect for her culture. She also reflects on how she balances traditional values and practices with her beliefs in the rights of women to have equal opportunities to men, especially for education. She also recounts the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and the shocking atrocities that occurred during that time.

Malala’s strong spirit and faith shines throughout the book. She overcame many challenges, even before she was shot by the Taliban. She understood the value of her education and did not want anyone to take that away from her or anyone else. She brought her experience of life under the Taliban to the world through a diary she wrote for the BBC using the pseudonym Gul Makai. She also spoke with her father at many events in Pakistan. She continued her struggle despite personal threats from the Taliban against her and her family.

I feel privileged to live at the same time as Malala, to be able to watch in real-time the work of this courageous and wise young woman. Her message is so important: every child, regardless of their gender, needs an education. She echoes the sentiments expressed by the first President of the Republic of Indonesia, Sukarno, in his book Sarinah, that a society in which women are not equal is sure to fall (Sukarno, 1963: 17). There is still a lot of work to be done. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, one in eight children between the ages of six and 15 do not get a basic education. Girls are more likely to be out of school, with the current figure of 63 million expected to be on the rise (website accessed 03 May 2016).

Mitra Wacana Women Resource Centre is working to give women access to education and improve gender equality in Kulon Progo regency of Yogyakarta. We are developing a curriculum for village women which covers topics that are not taught in formal education. While most women in this area complete high school, they do not go to university, where such topics are taught. One topic will be gender roles, how women do not need to be confined to domestic duties and can participate in the public sphere, and how men can help with domestic duties. We are also developing a curriculum on reproductive health and budgeting, to give women practical knowledge to contribute to development projects in their villages.

I am Malala is an important book for anyone who cares about gender equality, world peace and extremism to read. We all need to be aware of human rights violations occurring in the world because every human being in every nation and of every gender deserves education and safety. (Sophia, 03 May 2016)

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