Malala and the Case for Higher Education

It has been rare, certainly in recent times, that someone from my home country, Pakistan, has become a household name for courage, dignity and passion for a worthy cause. Yet Malala Yousafzai has done exactly that. She is a remarkably brave teenager who has championed a fundamental right, denied to so many across the world. Her simplicity, grace and poise is inspirational. Her message is profound both in its simplicity and its impact. Whether it is poverty, terrorism, lack of will or a social structure that bars girls from education, Malala stands for something that will bring a transformative change.

The social barriers and fanaticism that stopped Malala and her friends from their basic rights, and continue to stop many others around the globe need to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Yet there are many more barriers, from social to political to infrastructural, that stop many other women from becoming productive members of the society. The problem would be a lot simpler, if it were that the barriers of traditions, misguided views and raw hatred were the only ones stopping children and young girls from attending school. Unfortunately, it is far than that. Millions of young woman face harassment, from verbal to physical to sexual, should they aspire to reach institutions of higher learning. Many women, who may be lucky to avoid a threat of direct physical assault are unfortunately hindered by a deep social stigma associated with a woman seeking higher education. Women across the planet, standing up to get higher education or a professional degree continue to face insurmountable challenges that are seldom brought up in international media. It is unfortunately no coincidence that the same parts of the world, where the right to education for women are curtailed, have an unusually high burden of maternal mortality and morbidity, unplanned pregnancies, over population and violence in all forms against women.

For me, Malala stands up for education that is not just for all, but for all levels. It would be a grave mistake if those of us who are inspired by her story, her passion and her dignity, were to assume that the problem lies only in access to primary and secondary education. It would be equally naïve if we thought that the only barrier to education is rooted in terrorism. The problem of access lies at all levels, and perhaps is often ignored at the highest levels where we desperately need women doctors, scholars, engineers, scientists and thinkers. As the leaders of NGOs and global organizations stand next to Malala to renew their resolve to girls' education, let us hope that this resolve does not have an expiration date or a term limit that does not extend beyond the primary or the middle school.

I hope that no other girl in any part of the world has ever to face an assassin who wants to kill her just because she wants to go to school. I also hope we do not wait for another Malala to go through a hellish ordeal beyond human imagination for us to rally for global access to women's education at all levels.