By Madeline Price, National Director and Founder
What struck me first as Malala Yousafzai strode onto the stage was how young she is. Despite all that she has achieved and of her story that has inspired millions across the globe, she is still only a 21 year old commencing her degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford.
The entire audience chuckled along in solidarity when she reflected on the hardest part of moving out of home to commence university study being having to wash her own laundry.
But when she spoke of the 130 million girls who are not in school globally, of how she was one of 15 000 young girls in the Swat Valley (her local region) denied access to education under the Taliban rule, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium of 5 000+ people. We sat with baited breath as she spoke of how the Taliban understood the importance of girls education, more than our own leaders do:
The Taliban banned girls education because they knew how the empowerment of women could change everything. If only our own leaders cared as much about the education of girls as the Taliban does.
Her words ring true. The plight of girls education globally has long been the topic of discussion, with entrenched global goals as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (Goal 2 of universal primary education) and the revamped Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 4 of quality education).
Whilst the enrolment rate in primary education reached 91 per cent in targeted regions by 2015, immense disparities still remain. The lack of equal representation in secondary and vocational education remain distinct, children from low-socioeconomic households are four times more likely to be out of school than children from high-socioeconomic households and, in targeted regions, one in four girls are not in school. Globally, 103 million young people lack basic literacy skills, with 60 per cent of them identifying as women and girls.
Whilst Malala spoke passionately about the lack of leadership direction and financing of girls education globally, critically she spoke in length about the structural barriers to achieving this education: conflict, child marriage, gender bias, health, displacement, natural disasters, and the lack of substantial educational programs located within refugee camps and facilities for internally displaced people (IDPs).
As an internally displaced person herself, Malala spoke about the importance of having an identity in her advocacy. Named after Malalai of Maiwand (the only heroine in Pashtun history known by her own name), she spoke of how:
Many girls spoke out [about the issues we were facing]. The difference is that my Dad did not stop me [whilst other girls parents did’].
The support of her father in her advocacy has been pivotal for her work, providing her with the platform and support not afforded to others in her community. Valuably, this familial support has backed her during the toughest times of her life, particularly when the Taliban were targeting her:
When I couldn’t go to school, I wanted someone to speak for me, but no one was. I recall thinking that if I do speak out, they might target me. But if I don’t speak out, then we have to live in this situation forever… Today, we have 130 million girls who are speaking – are shouting – at us to do something! If I can speak out for myself, I can speak out for them too.
Despite her focus upon girls education globally, she is passionate about and commentates on other issues of global gender equality. When asked about the #metoo movement, a slight smile crossed her face as she answered:
For me, the #metoo movement is crucial because it started a conversation about violence against women in the West, that we always talk about in Pakistan, and in India, and in Brazil, and in Afghanistan, and in all of the so-called ‘developing’ countries. This movement shows the global nature of these issues, and has finally started the conversation in your communities too.
As young as she is, Malala and her story is globally known and a pivotal part of the movement towards gender equality globally. She left the crowd with this piece of wisdom:
If you give an education to a girl, you are not only changing her life, but also the whole world.
Just like Malala and the education she received has changed the rest of our world.
Madeline Price, the National Director and Founder of the One Woman Project, had the opportunity to attend ‘An Evening with Malala’ in Sydney in early December. This trip was personally funded and she attended on her own accord, not on behalf of the One Woman Project.