One week ago, Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani teen who was targeted and gunned down by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, was released from the hospital. On October 9th, as the 15-year-old rode home through the town of Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Taliban hitmen boarded her school bus and shot her in the head and neck, the bullet grazing her brain. She survived. Today Malala stands as a symbol of unwavering courage, and a shining beacon of hope for girls’ education the world over. Last month, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, announced a $10 million donation to the “Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education,” a global fund established in her name, aimed at ensuring all girls go to school by 2015. Earlier this week Malala was awarded France’s Simone de Beauvior Prize for Women’s Freedom. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, accepted on her behalf, stating, “She fell but Pakistan stood up. And the whole world – north, south, east and west – supported her. God protected her and protected the cause of humanity and education.” He also added, “In my part of the world, fathers are known by their sons. Daughters are very much neglected. I am one of the few fortunate fathers who is known by their daughter.”
Today happens to be my own daughter’s sixth birthday. She does not know about Malala or anything that’s happened to her. But she does know that there are places in the world where little girls like her are not able to go to school, and that she is lucky. TheGirlEffect.org, a website dedicated to advocating for educating and thereby unleashing the potential of girls worldwide, states that though research indicates that educated girls typically reinvest 90% of their income into their families and communities, compared with 35% for boys, the 250 million girls who live in poverty are more likely than boys to be uneducated. It also states that less than two cents of every international development dollar benefits girls. The impact an education can have on the life of a girl living in poverty has been well documented. An educated girl is more likely to earn a higher income, marry and have children at a later age, have a healthier family, and is less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. Someone once said, “When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” When we empower girls through education we not only improve their lives, but the lives of their families and larger communities.
According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, increasing access to education should be at the center of any development agenda for five reasons:
1. Education reduces poverty and promotes economic growth.
2. Maternal education improves children’s nutrition and chances of survival.
3. Education helps fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
4. Education promotes gender equality.
5. Education promotes democracy and participation in society.
As RWI’s motto states, lives can be changed through education. Malala Yousafzai, who stood up to the Taliban for girls’ right to go to school, knows this. The students in the village of Pasac who attend RWI’s After-School Elementary Tutoring Program to combat the statistic that 60% of the Guatemalan population never graduates from elementary school, know this. Education changes lives. Know this.