The Taliban: Under threat from women and young girls
As young Malala Yousafzai fights for her life, we all remain in shock and outrage over such a brutal attack on a girl.
What this vicious murderous attack has demonstrated is how threatened extremists groups like the Taliban are by educated women and girls.
In such a destabilised patriarchal country, comprehensive education for women and girls is rarely attained and in some instances denied with brutal violence.
So why do these issues persist? At its core, the issue is one of poverty. Pakistan has more than more than one fifth of its population living on less than US$1.25 a day. These unjust conditions disproportionally impact women and girls who are often denied opportunities for education and participation in civil life. It is estimated that the likelihood of women and girls completing secondary school is half those of their male counterparts.
Extremist groups like the Taliban reign and exploit an uneducated population with their control and repression. Women become the focal points of social and political control.
That’s why education of women and girls is key to ending discrimination and oppression against Pakistan’s female population. As the saying goes “knowledge is power”.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, summarised the situation beautifully when he said: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
The most dangerous tool against extremists like the Taliban is an educated female population. Their reign is undermined when women and girls rise up and stare such brutality in the face demanding an end to their terror, as brave Malala did.
Indeed Pakistan has a long history of strong females rising up to the severe and often life threatening forms of misogyny and gender discrimination.
Asma Jihangir, deemed one of Pakistan’s great daughters led the human rights movement in Pakistan and internationally through her UN postings; she has been a constant source of difficulty for patriarchal regimes in Pakistan.
She has spent her career defending the human rights, with a focus on the rights of women and children in Pakistan.
Asmara, like many others, has been beaten and attacked for activism and speaking up.
Upon meeting Asma I asked how it is she continued in such difficult and tortuous circumstances? She replied that to remain silent is torture itself, a familiar sentiment shared by many fiercely strong feminists I know from the Muslim and Arab world.
The Western world has quite a great deal to learn from female change makers like Malala and Asma , who have led and continue to secure equality and opportunity despite brutal injustice.
Their passion and bravery is a beacon for us all to follow and be inspired to stand in support and solidarity. Indeed the best way to support the plight of women and girls in Pakistan is to support education initiatives and development programmes in our own foreign aid program. Australian aid programs have helped improve educational access for girls and women in Pakistan, like Balochistan which resulted in 46,000 girls enrolled in primary school leading to a 89 per cent retention rate.
I feel somewhat overwhelmed realising how lucky I am to have received an education growing up in Australia, especially as education for women and girls in Pakistan is a life or death pursuit.
But what this time calls for is action and support for movements of change that are led by brave women and girls worldwide. We should be inspired to act just like brave Malala.
Samah Hadid is a women’s rights activist and National Director of The Global Poverty Project. She tweets @samahhadid.
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