Inspired by Malala, We Must Make School Accessible to the World’s Children
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on December 11, 2012
By Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; UN Special Envoy for Global Education
Globally, 32 million girls do not yet go to primary school and since October 9th, thousands of children have demonstrated, signed petitions and registered their demand that Malala and girls like her should be able to go to school free of fear and intimidation.
Elsewhere in South Asia, children have started to assert their rights to schooling. In Bangladesh, a new movement led by girls and boys is demanding an end to child marriage. In district after district ‘child marriage free zones’ are being declared as children themselves assert their right not to be sold into loveless marriages they did not choose.
In India this weekend a 300 kilometer march of children started from Assam province, calling for a ban on child labor. Led by 100 child laborers rescued from trafficking, they will demand their right to be at school.
So long as there are children denied the chance of school, Malala will be the standard bearer for their rights. Now and for every day until all young children have the chance to go to school, ‘I am Malala’ will be the banner under which millions of girls throughout the world will demand their right to education.
Today we embark on a new stage in our global campaign to secure education for every one of the 32 million girls who do not go to school. We set out the next stages in our plan to match in-country action with international support from governments, UN organizations and the general public.
Some girls are in bonded labor, forced to work in factories, farms and as domestic laborers and we estimate more than five million girls are completely denied any education because they are working.
Some 10 million girls each year are sold or handed over into forced marriages they did not choose. Some girls are just 9, others 10, many 11, 12 and 13 — all of them too young to make life-changing decisions that remove them from education and the chance of an independent life.
And then there are girls who are trafficked into prostitution, thousands of whom end up in the street brothels of some of the world’s best-known cities.
Many girls can’t go to school because we are short of two million teachers and four million classrooms. Even where classrooms exist, the schools are often ill-equipped and insanitary. In many cases girls who go to school are not being fed, denied school meals we could so easily provide.
In KPK, the province in Pakistan where Malala lives, 700,000 children are still not at primary school — and 600,000 of them are girls, whose chances of education are a fraction of those of boys. In Pakistan overall, 60 percent of the out-of-school children are girls, despite the desire expressed by girls in the ‘I am Malala’ campaign to attend classes.
Around the world 32 million of the 61 million out-of-school children are girls. They need champions like Malala to stand up for their rights.
The plan for action we set out today will be handed to the UN secretary-general to end the scourge of girls’ illiteracy and the denial of their right to education.
First, public pressure must be kept up. We will continue to add to our petition that calls on not just the Pakistani government but also the United Nations to ensure we invest the resources – in some cases only 100 dollars per year per child — to get girls to school. The petitions have already secured two million signatures around the world.
We will soon have an additional million signatures from the children of Pakistan alone which will be presented to the president of Pakistan and the United Nations. It is still possible for any member of the public to join us by signing up today on the website www.iammalala.org.
I can also announce that after consultation with Malala’s family there will be on July 12th next year, Malala’s own birthday, a day of action and we will invite children to assemble, walk, march, demonstrate, petition and pray for children’s education to be delivered worldwide.
Second, we are asking countries that are off-track in meeting the 2015 target of universal girls’ education to sign up to a new process, to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Countries as big as Nigeria and India and as small as Timor Leste and South Sudan will be asked to draw up the plans that will ensure education for all girls and boys will be delivered by the end of 2015.
Third, we will hold a summit in Washington on April 19th to be hosted by the secretary-general, the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, and myself. At that summit we will agree urgent measures to get children into school by end of 2015, offering the support of international organizations to back up the efforts of off-track countries that are ready to do more.
Fourth we will launch an international campaign for public subscriptions by companies, foundations and individuals to raise one billion dollars to show governments and international organizations that the public wants us to ensure every child is at school. We will soon offer citizens a unique chance to contribute directly, free of any administrative costs, to teachers, classrooms, books and nutrition for millions of children who want to go to school.
Education alone can break the vicious cycle of poverty that is transmitted today from generation to generation. To help in this endeavor, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, will become my special adviser on global education. His unique qualities — a teacher and headteacher as well as a parent who has had to struggle against opposition to girls’ education and the closing of schools — makes him ideally suited to leading in our educational effort to get all to school.
We wish Malala a speedy recovery from the terrible injuries inflicted on her in the attempted assassination. In time Malala herself is determined to join the campaign for every girl’s right to education and when she has recovered she will do so, becoming one of the leaders of that campaign.
With today’s announcements we show that as a result of Malala’s courage and her inspiration the whole world is now on a bolder and more urgent path for change. Before she was shot Malala was advocating the cause of girls’ education, faced with a Taliban that had closed down and destroyed 600 schools.
We now know that when the group of girls she was with on a school bus was assailed by a gunman asking ‘where is Malala?’, a fearless and defiant Malala did not scream and she did not cry but simply replied ‘I am Malala.’ Bravely she held the hand of her friend as she received what the Taliban considered her ‘punishment’ for the ‘crime’ of wanting education.
If the Taliban sought to silence her voice once and for all, they failed. For today her dream and her insistent demand that children should go to school echoes all round the world as girl after girl, each wanting all girls to have the right to go to school, identifies with Malala, repeating the words she used — ‘I am Malala.’