No better way to observe this International Day of the Girl than to listen to Malala Yousafzai’s response to the news that she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is the youngest recipient of the award which she shares with India’s child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. “It’s my message to children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights,” she declared, accepting the award on behalf of all the voiceless children of the world.
It’s notable that Malala was in her Chemistry class learning about electrolysis when the news broke, but she did not take the call on a cell phone disrupting class, nor did she dash out from class ignoring her responsibilities. She continued with her classes in Physics and English, only going out to meet the press when school was done for the day. While winning the Nobel Peace Prize is important, she acknowledged that, “It won’t help me in my tests and exams because that totally depends on my hard work.” An excellent perspective for a great student!
Malala’s story is a remarkable tale of true grit, amazing courage in the face of grave threats. At age 11, she became an activist for the education of girls in her native Pakistan. She persisted despite threats from the extremist Taliban terrorists, eventually suffering an assassination attempt in 2012. In a hospital in England, she recovered from a bullet wound to the head and has since continued her advocacy as well as her high school education.
October 11 is the International Day of the Girl, and this year’s theme calls for an end to violence against women and girls and more emphasis on educational opportunities. As Malala’s work and example illustrate, around the world millions of girls and women are deliberately kept illiterate, out of school and away from any opportunities to grow and develop as complete human beings. Even as Malala accepted her prize, in Nigeria several hundred girls who were kidnapped from their school mark a half year in captivity. The civilized world seems to have shuddered and moved on, leaving those young women at the mercy of barbarians.
Here in the United States, too often we see the education of women and girls taken for granted, and yet, even here the problems of gender discrimination and sexual abuse rob women of their potential constantly. From the NFL to college campuses to too many homes and mean streets — regardless of social class or celebrity status or race or ethnicity or religion — women and girls are marginalized, maligned and maltreated in shocking ways each day.
I often get questions about why Trinity sustains our women’s college. Haven’t women arrived? Isn’t the idea of a college devoted to women’s education and advancement something that went out with the 20th Century?
Absolutely not! So long as the CEO of a major company (Microsoft) that employs very few women executives says that women should not ask for raises, so long as professional athletes punch out their women friends, so long as women on too many major university campuses suffer rape and abuse, so long as some of our Trinity students feel an acute lack of family encouragement to go to college, so long as girls like Malala suffer death threats for wanting to go to school to become educated and intellectually fulfilled — so long as women remain excluded and marginalized from decision-making in many of the world’s most powerful organizations of business and finance, policy and politics, religion and civic life — Trinity and women’s colleges like us must persist in our mission.
The best way we can congratulate and recognize Malala’s achievement is to redouble our own advocacy for the education and advancement of women and girls.