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Hospital staff assists Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who was wounded in a gun attack, at the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the Swat Valley, northwest Pakistan October 9, 2012 (Mohammad Muzamil/Reuters)

Hospital staff assists Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who was wounded in a gun attack, at the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the Swat Valley, northwest Pakistan October 9, 2012

(Mohammad Muzamil/Reuters)

Savera Hayat

Pakistan must act to protect its girls Add to ...

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old education advocate who was shot in Pakistan this week, kept a journal for the BBC that resembles Anne Frank’s diary. Like Anne, Malala is a girl who was hunted by evil men – a young girl who just wanted to go to school.

Understanding why she was shot may be very difficult for some, but having grown up as a woman in Pakistan, it is quite clear.

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The truth of the matter is that this was a premeditated act of violence against a young girl who dared to stand up for what anyone – save those who tried to kill her – would consider basic rights. A girl who was deliberately targeted for her very simple request that she and other girls like her be allowed to go to school. This is a real social justice issue, the right to education being the most strongly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorist group said of her quest for an education: “This is a new chapter in obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter.” So when will the Taliban declare obscene the custom of vani, in which girls are handed over as child brides to settle blood feuds? If girls going to school is obscene, then what word would one use to describe what happened to the 13 girls who were made vani in Pakistan’s Balochistan province last month? In that case, the girls – aged 4 to 16 – were used by a tribal council to settle a conflict between two clans of a major tribe over the murder of a man.

Over the years, some in Pakistan have made progress in improving the lot of women and girls by working with the international community, signing international agreements and putting laws into place. Civil society groups, interested government officials and community members have taken very brave steps. The judiciary has also demonstrated an ability and occasional willingness to take on traditional interests.

The problem is these actions are proving incapable of staunching the blood that flows daily from violence against girls and women in the country. In donor parlance, these are inputs without many outcomes. More is needed.

Malala was not a random or accidental victim of a suicide bomber. She was targeted and attacked by the Taliban. The 13 girls in Balochistan were bartered by the tribal council, where the elders decided their fate. If there is a willingness to go after those who break the laws, then things can change.

Pakistan, the third-largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid after Haiti and Afghanistan, can be asked to do more. Surely the Pakistani government can also start focusing on enforcing its laws and taking more responsibility for its internal problems. While the roots of the problems may be deep and complex, the solution is not.

Savera Hayat is an Ottawa-based international development expert with many years of experience working with the World Bank, International Youth Foundation, USAID and CIDA projects on education and youth issues, globally and in Pakistan.

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